The National Labor Relations Board has tabled its investigation of a broad unfair labor practices charge against the NCAA to focus on a narrower one focusing on the rights of USC football and basketball players.
Michael Hsu, a former University of Minnesota regent who launched the College Basketball Players Association (CBPA), an advocacy group, had filed an unfair labor practices charge against the NCAA in November 2021, the first such action taken against the association since Northwestern football players unsuccessfully petitioned to form a union in 2014.
Hsu told Sportico that he received an email this week from the NLRB informing him that the agency’s Division of Advice had decided to put his NCAA charge “in abeyance” while it focused instead on a narrower charge filed in February by The National College Players Association, another athlete advocacy group.
In addition to the NCAA, the NCPA’s charge included USC and the Pac-12 Conference, and specifically addressed the employee status of football and mens and womens basketball players. The charge alleged that by misclassifying them as “student-athletes,” the school, conference and NCAA had “interfered with, restrained and coerced” the exercise of those athletes’ collective bargaining rights.
As a private university, USC falls within the purview of the NLRB, which oversees only private sector employees. The NCPA also filed an unfair labor practices charge on behalf of athletes at UCLA, a public university. However, that proceeding would rely on the joint employment doctrine, in which an individual is deemed to be employed by a secondary employer—in this case, the NCAA or Pac-12—if that entity wields significant power over the terms and conditions of the individual’s employment.
The CBPA’s and NCPA’s labor grievances followed the attention-grabbing memo issued two summers ago by NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, who argued that college athletes should receive statutory protections as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. However, Abruzzo’s memo only served to offer guidance for the agency’s field office and is not necessarily reflective of the position held by the NLRB’s five-member board, which would ultimately rule on a charge.
Earlier this year, Abruzzo told Sportico that she believed the most efficient path for college athletes to achieve employee status was through federal legislation. She noted the many hoops that a successful NLRB charge would have to jump through—including administrative appeals and court actions—before it could carry the day.
A spokesperson for the NLRB declined for comment.
Ramogi Huma, the NCPA’s executive director, told Sportico that as recently as last month he had been responding to a steady stream of information requests from the NLRB’s Los Angeles field office. Huma had previously helped organize the Northwestern football players’ unionizing effort, which was blessed by the regional office in Chicago before being dismissed by the national board.
USC and UCLA are both slated to join Northwestern as members of the Big Ten in 2024.