Friday, March 28, 2014

Northwestern, NCAA, and Negotiation

Now that I am teaching MBA courses in negotiation, I see negotiations everywhere.

For example, in reading about the extremely interesting NLRB ruling in favor of the Northwestern University football players – holding that the players are “employees” and can unionize – I came across this Sports Illustrated article:  Northwestern ruling sends clear message: NCAA, it's time to negotiate.

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter does a nice job articulating some of the interests from the players’ side of things in this video.

Given this ruling, which will be appealed, and the O’Bannon v. NCAA case which is set for trial on June 9, there is likely to be a great deal of negotiation between the NCAA and players outside of the courtroom over the next few months.  As the cases move closer to potential resolutions in favor of the players, the NCAA’s BATNA (best alternative to a negotiation) weakens.   The NCAA, however, may raise doubts about the players’ BATNA, by raising things like the possible tax implications of a court victory.

These will be complex, multi-party, multi-issue negotiations.  The parties with interests at stake include current and former players, coaches and athletic directors, colleges and universities, the NCAA, and the lawyers on either side.  The sports fans also have interests at stake, but while we may be considered, I doubt we will get an actual seat at the negotiation table. 

The interests of all these groups create quite the confusing web.  The NCAA and the players would be wise to ask questions aimed at uncovering all of the underlying interests of the other parties and try to reach a mutually beneficial resolution outside of court.

For more information, from other professors, on the NLRB ruling in favor of the Northwestern football players see below:

Haskell Murray, Negotiation, Sports, Teaching | Permalink


There is a lot of dynamic tension between the student-athletes, the NCAA and the law (ex., Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Sadly, it has taken these actions by the athletes to even contemplate negotiation or consideration of the often punitive effects of the “representative of athletic interest” rules. Universities, rightly so, consider their primary mission as education. This is reflected in the Executive Committee of the NCAA being comprised of presidents and chancellors of the constituent members. In concert is the preservation of the status of the “amateur” athlete. The prestige and definition of an amateur, however, has changed substantially throughout the last century culminating in the present. This poses the question: if the NLRB’s determination stands - the athletes are classified as employees - are scholarship collegiate athletes no longer classified as amateurs? This leads to the next question: are scholarship high school athletes in private schools no longer classified as amateurs and may they avail themselves of a similar union organizing? Will this lead to a wholesale change in State athletic governing bodies as well? What is going to be the legal liability ramifications of educational bodies having an evolving vicarious liability for these employees? Where the federal government has “stuck its nose” into the “tent” of college athletics, should it be a party to the negotiations? Where will this slippery slope lead us?

Once upon a time, many decades ago, I and my friends were the beneficiaries of various degrees of athletic scholarships. The NLRB decision has thus been a source of great discussion between myself and these old teammates the past few days. We experienced the benefits and detriments. A student-athlete, in our experience, has little opportunity to avail themselves of employment aside from the academic and athletic pursuits to “earn spending money.” Those athletes whose families are without resources to supplement the athlete during the course of their education are without recourse. This resulted, between those of my generation, in players with family resources being a bank or charity to each other. For us, it was “no player left behind.” We often “pooled” in order to take teammates on spring break, go home for the weekend or for a funeral or simply to buy a pizza. Needless to say, we, as a group are big believers that there should be a permitted stipend. In consideration of that, to what degree must a school fund this same privilege for athletic endeavors that are perennially without positive revenue?

The negotiations should begin now rather than “on the courthouse steps.” I simply cannot conceive that the permutations of ramifications have been thought through.

Posted by: Tom N | Mar 29, 2014 8:53:28 AM

Perhaps, of interest, see: Tennessee Could Lead Debate Over Student Athlete Pay at:

Posted by: Tom N | Mar 30, 2014 7:41:26 AM

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