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Northwestern Football Players Vote on Unionization

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Football players at Northwestern University will cast secret ballots on Friday morning on whether or not to establish the country’s first union for college athletes, but the results could be sealed for months — or years.

In March, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that college athletes should be considered employees of the school and have the right to unionize.

But on Thursday, the NLRB granted the Illinois-based school’s request to review the ruling, prompting a decision to conceal the vote’s results until the board hands down an affirmation, reversal or modification.

College Athletes Player’s Association, which was formed in January, argues that “over $1.2 billion in new TV revenue is flooding NCAA sports yet players are too often stuck with sports-related medical expenses, can lose their scholarships if they are permanently injured, and ‘full’ scholarships are capped by the NCAA.”

The NCAA contends that student athletes voluntarily partake in college sports and treating them as employees “undermines the purpose of college: an education.”

Northwestern University agrees.

“Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are students first and foremost, not employees,” Alan K. Cubbage, the school's vice president for university relations said in a statement.

While Cubbage said, “Northwestern is proud of our students for raising these issues,” he added, “we believe that a collective bargaining process at Northwestern would not advance the discussion of these topics.”

Trevor Siemian, a quarterback for the Wildcats, told The Associated Press he plans on voting against unionization, although he said, the fight raised by the players has sparked an overdue debate about their rights.

Siemian said he and his teammates “just want this to be over — and to focus on football.”

— Elisha Fieldstadt

Image: Matt Alviti,  Miles Shuler
Northwestern quarterback Matt Alviti hands off to wide receiver Miles Shuler, right, at a practice April 1 in Evanston, Ill.M. Spencer Green / AP

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