“This type of misclassification deprives these players of their legal right to organize and come together to improve their working/playing conditions if they so choose,” Abruzzo said in a statement. “Our goal is to ensure that these players can fully and freely exercise their rights.”
Abruzzo issued a memo in September 2021 outlining his belief that student athletes should be treated as employees for the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act and pledged to take steps to enforce that view.
For decades, universities and the NCAA have resisted attempts to rein in their control over athletes in the system. But the business model has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, leading to several court rulings that have forced major changes to the way college sports operate.
The definition of who is and who is not an employee has been the subject of fierce political debate and has been the focus of President Joe Biden’s appointees. Beyond the NLRB, the Department of Labor this fall released a proposed rule to distinguish employees from purposeful contractors that garnered more than 50,000 public comments.
The NCAA, Pac-12 and USC will have a chance to settle the case, that was archived by the National Association of College Players in February. If no agreement is reached, the NLRB will proceed to issue a complaint against all three organizations.
Thursday’s development comes just hours after outgoing Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a former college basketball player, was chosen to be the next NCAA president after he leaves office in early January.
In a statement, the NCAA questioned the employment agency’s characterization of student athletes.
“Contrary to the claims made in the NLRB charges, college athletes are not employees of the NCAA, regardless of sport or division,” the governing body said. “The NCAA is committed to student-athletes, and it will continue to vigorously defend any attempt to divide them based on arbitrary standards, as it demeans the hard work and sacrifice of all who participate in college sports.”
Even if the NLRB takes further action, the case could take years to work its way through the agency’s process and end up before its five-member board, which currently has three Democratic appointees, including one who was previously the NLRB’s general counsel. Major League Baseball Players Association.
However, the NLRB is susceptible to ideological shifts as power changes hands in Washington. In 2015, the agency rejected an effort to hold a union election involving the Northwestern University football team.
The NLRB’s determination was first reported by Bloomberg.