Economist: Defeat a positive for college football

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Chris Woodward (

A former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor thinks a ruling against football players at Northwestern is good for college football.

Saying it does not have jurisdiction, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a ruling Monday to allow college football players at private Northwestern University to unionize. The effort was led more than a year ago by then-Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who said it was about protecting players and improving conditions under which they play NCAA sports.

In March 2014, a regional director of the NLRB in Chicago said the football players are effectively school employees and therefore are entitled to organize. Even so, a number of institutions including Northwestern University, the Big Ten conference and the NCAA opposed the effort.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor now working for Economics21 and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. She tells OneNewsNow that a ruling in Northwestern players' favor "would have destroyed college football."


"What [NLRB] said was that it would not promote stability in labor relations if [the players] were allowed to unionize," she explains. "One reason was the overwhelming majority of competitive public colleges and universities over which the board doesn't have jurisdiction.

"So if the Northwestern University football players had been allowed to unionize, then private universities and colleges could have had unionized football players and public ones couldn't have."

In a related column for, Furchtgott-Roth calculates the amount of tax and union dues the players would have had to pay if they were able to organize. The players, she argues, would have been the "biggest losers" in the long run.

"At Northwestern, the benefits add up to about $78,000 a year. If they were employees that could be counted as income that would have to be taxed," says the economist.

"I calculate that the amount of tax and union dues they would have to pay is almost $20,000 a year. The biggest losers would be these young men who play football. No one wants to pay an extra $20,000 a year for the privilege of being counted as an employee."

Meanwhile, ESPN reports that the ruling doesn't end the debate, because the NLRB didn't rule on the merits of the players' argument.

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