House Holds Hearing on NLRB Student-Athlete Ruling, ACE Submits Statement
March 13, 2024

​Ahead of a hearing in the House titled “Safeguarding Student-Athletes from NLRB Misclassification,” ACE and five other higher education associations submitted a statement for the record opposing the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) decision to treat collegiate student-athletes as employees.

The hearing, jointly held Tuesday by Education and the Workforce subcommittees on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions and Higher Education and Workforce Development, examined the NLRB ruling that Dartmouth College’s men’s basketball players are employees—team voted last week to unionize—and the broader impacts on college sports and higher education.

Democrats on the subcommittees highlighted some benefits for athletes that could result from unionization, whereas Republicans emphasized that this seismic change could drastically harm college athletics, institutions, and students, and cause unintended consequences.

"Classifying student-athletes as employees is an existential threat to the future of college sports on many campuses,” said Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee. “The increased costs of unionization and administrative headaches would threaten to make low-funded programs economically unviable.”

The statement ACE submitted highlights three main topics: the distorted portrayals of college athletics; implications of the NLRB’s decision; and financial threats for institutions. The groups detailed how the vast majority of college athletic programs do not generate revenue and the extension of the NLRB’s ruling across college athletics would make fielding intercollegiate teams cost-prohibitive for most athletics departments.

“Treating student-athletes as employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], or the [Fair Labor Standards Act], has deeply troubling implications for the continued viability of intercollegiate athletics, and would be potentially devastating for many of America’s institutions of higher education, as well as for future generations of aspiring collegiate athletes who risk losing the opportunity to have an intercollegiate athletics experience,” the statement reads.

The NLRB’s ruling is the latest event that is reshaping college athletics, and additional important decisions are coming. A U.S. Court of Appeals is set to rule on a pending case—in which ACE has submitted an amicus brief—regarding whether student-athletes playing non-revenue sports can be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“We stand ready to assist Congress in evaluating the implications of these dramatic threats to our colleges and universities and their student-athletes,” the groups wrote in the letter.

To read the statement, click here.