- The battle over whether college athletes should be treated as employees with union rights entered a new chapter this month when a new advocacy group filed a complaint against the NCAA with the National Labor Relations Board.
- The College Basketball Players Association accused the NCAA of interfering with employee rights by misclassifying college athletes as "student-athletes." The document was signed by Michael Hsu, an advisory board member of the College Football Players Association and a former regent of the University of Minnesota. Hsu co-founded the College Basketball Players Association with his cousin, Gino Kwok, an attorney.
- Current athletes were concerned about retaliation or harming their schools, so Hsu decided to test comments made by the NLRB's general counsel indicating that people can file against companies even if they don't work for them, he told Higher Ed Dive.
The complaint could mark a major step in college athletes gaining union rights. It comes at a time when the college athletics world is undergoing seismic change, as student-athletes recently gained the ability to profit off their celebrity and major universities have announced their intention to switch conferences.
Hsu is now focused on finding college athletes willing to share with the NLRB their experiences playing college sports under the NCAA.
"All I've done is open the door," Hsu said. "Who is going to come through that door and who is going to help make the case for the NLRB? That's the next step."
His network of contacts has identified some potential students, but Hsu said he hasn't spoken to them yet. "This is a busy time of year for students," he said. "I hope to accomplish that in the near future — within the next 10 days or so."
The complaint was prompted by a memo released in September by the NLRB's general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, that voiced support for some college athletes to be regarded as employees.
"Nobody had filed anything," Hsu said. "I felt that somebody needed to do something."
Abruzzo wrote college athletes perform services for their institutions in return for compensation and are subject to institutions' control. Dismissing these players as mere student-athletes leads them to believe they are not entitled to union benefits and violates labor law, she argued.
"My intent in issuing this memo is to help educate the public, especially Players at Academic Institutions, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA, about the legal position that I will be taking regarding employee status and misclassification in appropriate cases," Abruzzo said in a statement.
Although Abruzzo's memo doesn't alter the law, she oversees investigations and her stance could influence college sports, Sportico reported.
The case wouldn't be the first time the NLRB has considered whether to treat college athletes as employees. In 2015, the organization's five-member board unanimously dismissed a petition from Northwestern University football players seeking to unionize.
However, the board didn't directly rule on whether the football players were university employees. Instead, its members argued there was no precedent for a decision and no obvious answer as to whether college athletes met the NLRB's test for employee status.
The new complaint was filed last week and assigned to the NLRB's office in Indianapolis, where the NCAA's headquarters are located.
The NCAA and the NLRB did not immediately return Higher Ed Dive's request for comment Thursday.