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Mar 27, 2014 11:05 AM EDT

Northwestern Football Players Unionization Win UPDATE: How the Ruling Will Help Change the NCAA Forever


For the first time in the history of college sports, student athletes will officially be considered employees; now the NCAA is bound to face some fallout from that ruling.

The National Labor Rights Board (NLRB) in Chicago ruled Wednesday that a group of Northwestern University football players could be considered employees and therefore have the right to form a union. According to the New York Times, the ruling handed down by Peter Sung Ohr is a victory for anyone who wishes to challenge the NCAA's model of amateurism in college sports.

"It's another brick being taken out of the castle the NCAA has constructed," Jay Bilas, a former college basketball player and current ESPN analyst, told the NYT. "It's not going to stand forever, and we're getting closer and closer to it tumbling."

Kain Colter, Northwestern's former quarterback, recently graduated as a standout student and athlete. He argued that the grueling football schedule (as much as 50 hours per week) forced him to switch off his pre-med major for something less time consuming. This was one of the multiple factors that led Ohr to rule "the employer's scholarship players are 'primarily students,'" his decision said.

Colter helped former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma form the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), which is backed by the United Steelworkers union. The petitioners were only focused on NCAA Division I football and basketball, since those are the most competitive and most lucrative.

Northwestern belongs to the Big Ten, one of five "power conferences" that make more money and get more attention than any other. The schools and the NCAA bring in billions of dollars in revenue in ticket sales, merchandise, TV contracts and more every year. Still, players are strictly forbidden from receiving any type of compensation.

"60 Minutes Sports" correspondent Armen Keteyian, of CBS News, said the ruling brings into question their relationship between the coaches and the scholarship, and that's going to have a ripple effect as well." What will most likely come next is an appeal to the NLRB in Washington, so no union will be formed until the decision is officially upheld.

"Short-term we're going to be headed into the NLRB's national office in Washington where a five-member panel is going to take this up in the coming months," he said. "Don't be surprised if the NCAA doesn't go to court. This is a potentially staggering effect. I think the other thing that's interesting here is another drumbeat about just how big college athletics is right now and in the case of the Final Four coming up with March Madness, it's like $7.3 billion in television revenue over the next 10 years and you have a universities like the University of Texas that made $109 million last year, $89 million at the University of Alabama, Michigan with $81 million. This is just another example that, look, we are long since past the days of amateurism."

The decision will most definitely provide ammo for Ed O'Bannon and Sam Keller, who go to court with the NCAA over compensation for use of name, image and likeness without compensation.

One way or another, the NCAA looks like it will eventually be forced to alter its model of amateurism because these student-athletes are generating too much money and getting none of it.

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