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Northwestern appeal: Football players are student-athletes

From left former Northwestern University football quarterback KaColter Ramogi Humfounder President National College Players AssociatiTim Waters Political Director United Steel

From left, former Northwestern University football quarterback Kain Colter, Ramogi Huma, founder and President of the National College Players Association and Tim Waters, Political Director of the United Steel Workers, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April, 2, 2014. Members of a group seeking to unionize college athletes are looking for allies on Capitol Hill as they brace for an appeal of a ruling that said full scholarship athletes at Northwestern University are employees who have the right to form a union. Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter _ the face of a movement to give college athletes the right to unionize _ and Ramogi Huma, the founder and president of the National College Players Association, scheduled meetings Wednesday with lawmakers. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)o)

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Northwestern filed legal papers Wednesday asking the full National Labor Relations Board to overturn the Chicago regional director’s ruling that scholarship football players are employees and may be represented by a union.

Calling the decision by regional director Peter Sung Ohr on March 26 “unprecedented,” Northwestern’s brief says the director overlooked or ignored key evidence that the university presented showing that its student-athletes are primarily students, not employees. The appeal was filed with the NLRB in Washington.

“Northwestern presented overwhelming evidence establishing that its athletic program is fully integrated with its academic mission, and that it treats its athletes as students first,” the brief states. “Based on the testimony of a single player, the regional director described Northwestern’s football program in a way that is unrecognizable from the evidence actually presented at the hearing.”

Northwestern argues the regional NLRB ruling improperly refused to apply the legal precedent established in the NLRB’s 2004 decision in a Brown University case in which the NLRB held that the graduate assistants were primarily students, not employees.

Northwestern also argues the ruling ignored testimony that academics is the primary mission of Northwestern for all of its students, including student-athletes. Pointing to the 97 percent graduation rate among football players — the highest among Football Bowl Subdivision schools — the brief states: “The remarkable graduation rate is not something that should merely ‘be noted’ in passing, as the regional director did, but instead demonstrates the emphasis that Northwestern places on the academic success of its student-athletes.”

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