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NLRB rules FBS private schools must eliminate ‘unlawful’ restrictions

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They also refer to players as “employees”

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that private FBS schools must eliminate “unlawful” rules restricting players from expressing themselves, ESPN reported on Monday.

The ruling, which referred to players as “employees”, states players must be allowed to freely post on social media, discuss their health and speak with the media.

Syracuse University, one of 17 private FBS schools, must now comply with these new rules.

The NLRB’s decision stems from a 2015 charge against Northwestern alleging the school was guilty of "unfair labor practices" in its treatment of football players. Northwestern once forbid players from talking to any media not previously approved by the school.

The NLRB previously refused to assert jurisdiction over a separate 2015 case involving Northwestern football players’ attempt to unionize. The board, at the time, said it did not make sense to do so since Northwestern is the lone private school in the Big 10, and one of only 17 in the country.

“In the decision, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction would not promote labor stability due to the nature and structure of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). By statute the Board does not have jurisdiction over state-run colleges and universities, which constitute 108 of the roughly 125 FBS teams.

In addition, every school in the Big Ten, except Northwestern, is a state-run institution. As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league.”

While the recent ruling grants private FBS players more freedoms, it does not address the highly-controversial topic of compensation. It does, however, open the door. If the NLRB ruled that restricting a player’s Twitter account and availability to the speak with the media as unlawful, it will be interesting to see how it would view failing to pay players – or as they referred to them as, “employees.”

Although private FBS players now appear to have more freedom in terms of communicating with the media and fans, it would be naive to assume that will actually be the case. While private universities can no longer publicly punish or restrict players, it would be difficult for the NLRB to actually enforce these policies and limit teams and coaches from internally punishing players behind the scenes.

For example, College A can’t make an official ruling that states players are not allowed to disclose any updates on their health. But, College A can have its football coach make an in-house policy and state he’ll bench or limit playing time for any player who does so.

With Syracuse being one of only 17 private FBS schools this ruling affects, it will be interesting to see how the university and its athletic department responds moving forward.