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Northwestern ruling could have "staggering" effect on NCAA sports, expert says

A National Labor Relations official ruled football players at Northwestern University are employees of the school and can form a union
Northwestern University football players can unionize 02:44

A National Labor Relations Board official ruled Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University are employees of the school and can form a union.

The ruling is being called a big win for college athletes and could have a ripple effect for colleges nationwide.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter started the drive to organize his teammates. "It's a huge step on our journey to gaining basic protections and basic rights," he said of the ruling. "We finally have somebody in place to negotiate on our behalf and to make sure that, you know, our experience is the best that it can be and somebody actually looking out for the players and only for the players."

The ruling was a stunner for many who thought the NLRB would go the other way, according to "60 Minutes Sports" correspondent Armen Keteyian, co-author of "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football."

Keteyian called the judgment a "landmark" decision. "In the big picture," he explained, "this says a couple of things -- one, for the first time, really, an independent voice has said, 'Look, college athletics at Northwestern, meaning at major college football around the country, is a full-time job, that these athletes are athletes first and they're students second.

He continued, "It also brings into question their relationship between the coaches and the scholarship, and that's going to have a ripple effect as well."

So what's next in this case? Likely a university appeal, Keteyian said.

"Short-term we're going to be headed into the NLRB's national office in Washington where a five-member panel is going to take this up in the coming months," he said. "...Don't be surprised if the NCAA doesn't go to court. This is a potentially staggering effect. I think the other thing that's interesting here is another drumbeat about just how big college athletics is right now and in the case of the Final Four coming up with March Madness, it's like $7.3 billion in television revenue over the next 10 years and you have a universities like the University of Texas that made $109 million last year, $89 million at the University of Alabama, Michigan with $81 million. This is just another example that, look, we are long since past the days of amateurism."

The Northwestern case is not an isolated one, Keteyian noted. He said the National Collegiate Athletic Association has been "under siege" in the last year. "You have this union case now that has just now blown up," he said. "You have a likeness case...involving the rights of players to their own likenesses and to be compensated for that, and now, you have just recently Jeffrey Kessler who's a major sports labor attorney who has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA questioning amateurism."

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