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The National Labor Relations Board today ruled that Northwestern University football players cannot form a union.

The unanimous 16-page opinion overturned a ruling by the agency’s Chicago office last year.

NLRB fficials called it “a very narrow decision” which declined to address whether the players are NU employees and said allowing NU players to bargain with the school over policies that apply throughout the National Collegiage Athletic Association would potentially upset the balance of competition.

Northwestern issued a statement saying the school is pleased by the decision.

“Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost,” the statement said. “We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”

But the school said it planned to continue to address the issues regarding the long-term health impact of playing intercollegiate sports, providing additional grant-in-aid support and providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes.

Update 3:25 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) in a statement said she was disappointed by the NLRB decision.

“These athletes dedicate 40-plus hours a week to their sport, helping to raise millions of dollars for the University each year.  They deserve to stand on an even playing field with the University in negotiating for better health coverage while they are playing for their school and after their careers end, for guaranteed 4-year scholarships, and for a say in practice time and intensity.  This decision denies them that opportunity,” Schakowsky said.

Related stories

Northwestern football players cannot form a union, NLRB rules (Bloomberg Business)

Northwestern players denied request to form first union for athletes (ESPN)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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