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November 28, 2014

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Northwestern to appeal players union ruling

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Paul Beaty / AP

In this Jan. 28, 2014, photo, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, right, speaks while College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma listens during a news conference in Chicago. In a Wednesday, March 26, 2014, landmark ruling, a federal agency has given football players at Northwestern University the green light to unionize.

CHICAGO— Northwestern University on Friday criticized a federal agency's landmark ruling giving Wildcat football players the green light to form the nation's first college athletic union, also confirming that it will appeal.

If it withstands an appeal, the dramatic decision this week by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, Peter Ohr, could fundamentally change a college sports industry worth billions of dollars.

Alan Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, said in a Friday statement that Ohr had "applied incorrect legal standards."

"Northwestern believes the decision overlooked or completely ignored much of the critical testimony supporting the university's position that student-athletes are not employees of Northwestern," he said.

Reached by telephone later Friday, Ohr declined comment.

The core question Ohr had to answer was whether football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school are employees under federal law and, thereby, are allowed to unionize. In his 24-page opinion, released Wednesday, Ohr concluded the players did "fall squarely" within the broad definition of employee.

The Evanston, Ill.-based university said Friday, as it had immediately after the NLRB ruling, that it would file a request for the full board in Washington, D.C, to review Ohr's decision. It has until April 9 to file that request.

In the meantime, preparations were underway for a vote by scholarship football players on whether to authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them. A vote normally happens with 30 days of the regional ruling.

Typically, NLRB agents help schedule the voting process according to agreements between the employer and the union-mined employee; its agents also would oversee the vote. One possibility is that the process could be stayed pending a review by the full board in Washington.

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