The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed a historic ruling that Northwestern University football players are school employees who are entitled to form what would be the nation's first union of college athletes.
The NLRB released its decision Monday. The losing side does not have an option to appeal.
The decision throws out a March 2014 ruling by a regional NLRB director in Chicago who said that college the football players are effectively school employees and entitled to organize. Monday's decision did not directly address the question of whether football players are employees.
"Although we do not decide the issue here, we acknowledge that whether such individuals meet the Board's test for employee status is a question that does not have an obvious answer," the decision states.
The unanimous ruling by the five-member National Labor Relations Board concludes that letting Northwestern football players unionize could lead to different standards at different schools — from amounts of money players receive to the amount of time they can practice. That would, it says, create the competitive imbalances.
The ruling applies only to Northwestern football players and does not affect the ability of other college athletes to unionize, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, said the "door's not closed" on efforts to allow college athletes to unionize. Huma said the NLRB's ruling does not prevent another attempt for athletes to unionize, but he did not comment on whether such plans are currently in place.
Northwestern University officials said they were "pleased" by the decision, according to a statement from Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations.
"As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost," Cubbage said. "We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."
Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who led the drive the unionize, said in a tweet that he was "disappointed" by the ruling but proud of the athletes who fought.
NLRB says that even if college athletes are employees (still very strong evidence), they are not taking jurisdiction. DID NOT rule against
— Kain Colter (@KainColter_2) August 17, 2015
Northwestern had appealed last year's ruling by a regional NLRB director in Chicago that led to a vote by football players on whether they wanted to form a union. Those ballots were sealed during the appeal and will now be destroyed.
Advocates say unionization would help athletes protect their health and financial interests.