The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a memorandum on Wednesday saying college athletes are considered employees entitled to all statutory protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
The memorandum comes a few days after a federal judge in Pennsylvania denied a motion by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to have Division I athletes classified as school employees who must be granted hourly wages.
NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo is prepared to initiate action against higher education institutions and the NCAA if they do not stop using the term “student-athletes.” She claims that the term is created to “disguise employment relationships with college athletes and discourage them from pursuing their rights.”
She further stated that allowing players to engage in an agreement with lucrative business enterprises makes them similar to professional athletes who are employed by a team or organization to play a sport.
The official also said college athletes may not be given statutory protection if the NCAA and their colleges do not recognize them as employees. “It is chilling workers’ rights to engage with one another to improve their terms and conditions of employment,” she told The Associated Press.
Abruzzo explained that college athletes have been gaining more power and better understanding of their value since as they continue generating billions of dollars for their universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA.
She also said that coaches, fans, and school administrators have already shown full support in the quest to demand fair treatment for college athletes.
Meanwhile, Tulane Sports Law Program director Gabe Feldman said the new memorandum released by the NLRB is “yet another threat” to the NCAA. He claims that the organization relies on unpaid athletes to reap billions in revenue.
“All signs point to an increasingly at-risk and fragile system of college athletics,” he told the American non-profit news agency.
NCAA Says ‘No’
Despite growing demand from students and school administrators to recognize student-athletes as employees, the NCAA stands firm on its decision that athletes should not be characterized as people who can receive hourly wages.
The organization claims it has exhausted every means to modernize rules to benefit college athletes.
“College athletes are students who compete against other students, not employees who compete against other employees. Like other students on a college or university campus who receive scholarships, those who participate in college sports are students. Both academics and athletics are part of a total educational experience,” the college sports governing body remarked.