“This kind of misclassification deprives these players of their statutory right to organize and to join together to improve their working/playing conditions if they wish to do so,” Abruzzo said in a statement. “Our aim is to ensure that these players can fully and freely exercise their rights.”
Abruzzo issued a memo last September 2021 outlining her belief that student athletes should be treated as employees for the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act and vowed to take action to enforce that view.
For decades, colleges 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 and has led to several court rulings that have forced major changes to how collegiate sports operate.
The definition of who is and is not an employee has been the subject of fierce political debate, and has been a focus of President Joe Biden’s labor appointees. Beyond the NLRB, the Department of Labor this fall released a proposed rule to distinguish employees from intendent contractors that garnered well over 50,000 public comments.
The NCAA, Pac-12 and USC will have the opportunity to settle the case, which was filed by the National College Players Association in February. If no agreement is reached, the NLRB will move to issue a complaint against the three organizations.
Thursday’s development comes just hours after outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — a former college basketball player — was tapped to be the NCAA’s next president after he leaves office in early January.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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 is currently stocked with three Democratic appointees — including one who was formerly the general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association.
However, the NLRB is susceptible to ideological swings as power trades hands in Washington. In 2015, the agency rebuffed an effort to hold a union election involving Northwestern University’s football team.
The NLRB’s determination was first reported by Bloomberg.
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