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FMG Law Blog Line

Big Man on Campus, Big Money in Pocket?

Posted on: March 27th, 2014

By: Marty Heller 

Spring is here.  Time to enjoy college baseball, spring football and lawsuits by college players for unpaid wages?  This very soon may become a reality.

Tuesday’s National Labor Relations Board decision ruling that college football players at Northwestern University are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act raises some very interesting questions for wage and hour litigation.  First, and perhaps most importantly, does this ruling mean that the football players also are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act?  I cannot imagine that this is the case, but 48 hours ago, I would have opined that there is no way college football players are employees in the NLRB context.

Just assume for a second that these players are employees, and assume that a few of the facts alleged in the Northwestern case are true: (1) the players (employees) receive little or no payment for their work; (2) the players (employees) spend 40-60 hours per week working (playing football).  Now assume that a four year starter spends half of the year playing football.  Using these figures, each player could bring an FLSA claim seeking between $30,000 and $50,000.00 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime.  After yesterday, it sounds like this is not an absurd assertion, and I anticipate we may see a similar argument soon.

If we do see a rash of FLSA cases involving college football players, I am curious how far this ruling will extend within private Universities?  Basketball players spend a lot of time on their sport, as do baseball players, hockey players, gymnasts, swimmers, tennis players, even members of the equestrian team.  There are no answers to these questions, but one thing is for certain: unless yesterday’s NLRB ruling is overturned, it is going to raise a lot of issues and create a lot of problems for private Universities (employers).

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