NCAA needs to 'play fair'
The big-time college sports establishment undoubtedly felt a disturbance in the force Wednesday when a National Labor Relations Board officer in Chicago ruled that football players at Northwestern University could vote to form a union.
The marching band won't be playing "Solidarity Forever" any time soon, however. A long appeals process through the full National Labor Relations Board and, probably, the federal court system including the Supreme Court, lies ahead.
In effect, the right for the players to unionize means they are employees of the university rather than simply students. Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said in his ruling that the players are recruited to the university more for their athletic than academic prowess, and that they are obligated to spend a majority of their time in that pursuit.
That alone should give pause because Northwestern is among a handful of major-conference universities that maintains strong academic standards for athletes.
It's far from clear how this will play out, since scholarship athletes as employees might not fully appreciate all sides of that status. Their compensation - scholarships - could be considered taxable income, for example.
But the basic issue is fairness. As major programs lavish multi-million-dollar contracts on coaches, needy players face convoluted NCAA rules that prevent them from even having walking-around money.
And Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who led the unionization effort, has said that the main concern for players is assurance of long-term medical care for medical problems they might develop as a result of playing.
The suit remains a call for the NCAA to get into the 21st century, provide players with a share of the billions of dollars they produce and work to ensure their long-term health.
Mr. Colter and his teammates deserve credit for demanding basic fairness.