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Employee status sought for college athletes as group files complaint on behalf of UCLA, USC players

A second unfair labor practice complaint was filed Tuesday against the NCAA, this one attempting to capitalize on a September ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that could eventually lead to college athletes becoming employees of their universities.

The California-based National College Players Association (NCPA) filed the complaint with the NLRB naming not only the NCAA but the Pac-12, UCLA, USC, and all Division I football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball programs as complainants.

“The goal is to affirm college athlete employee status for every FBS football player and Division I basketball player at every public and private university in the nation,” the NCPA said in a statement.

The NCPA’s move comes three months after the College Basketball Players Association (CPBA) filed a similar unfair labor charge against the NCAA for classifying college players as “student-athletes”.

Taken together, the two complaints continue the momentum towards a conclusion some consider inevitable: college players becoming become employees paid directly by their universities.

“One way or another, I feel like it’s more of a freight train now. No one can explain exactly how it’s going to unfold, but the direction is clear,” NCPA executive director Ramogi Huma told CBS Sports.

In September 2021, the NLRB general counsel issued a memorandum setting the stage for institutions for college athletes to be paid directly by their institutions, thus becoming employees.

For the NLRB to move forward, there had to be formal complaints. In November, the CPBA filed the first complaint from Michael Hsu, a former University of Minnesota regent and co-founder of the organization.

On Tuesday, Huma followed up. A former UCLA player, he has been a college athlete activist for at least 20 years and helped form the NCPA to formally advocate for college players’ rights. In 2014, the NCPA supported the legal battle that eventually became the Alston v. NCAA lawsuit and spawned Northwestern’s unionization effort.  

Legal sources thought the NLRB general counsel’s memo only applied to private schools. Huma said, because the NCAA and conferences are “joint employers”, the NLRB would get jurisdiction over public schools as well.

“We chose UCLA and USC because we wanted one private school and one public school to set the precedent nationwide in those sports,” Huma told CBS Sports. “They’re both in the same city under the same NLRB region. They’re both in the same conference. Of course, California has been the hub of college athlete reform. We’ve been able to change the nation through California legislation.”

In attempting to prove how schools hold control over athletes, the NCPA said the media policies mandated by universities violate labor law. The association said some media policies that require athletes to clear interviews with the school or not use social media are in violation.

Prior to the NCPA complaint, several sources told CBS Sports that they expect an NLRB response to the CBPA complaint this year. A bill in the state of Iowa was filed last month by a state representative seeking to classify athletes as employees.

“If ever there is a path toward employee status, we’re trying to make sure it can be done,” Huma added. “Players will benefit no matter what.”

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