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College athletes one step closer to a union

Today's ruling by the National Labor Relations Board lays the groundwork for the unionization of college athletes.

"Employees" engaged in "labor."
"Employees" engaged in "labor."
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

"There's no way around the fact that football is a job." That's what former Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter has said about his time in collegiate sports, and now he is one step closer to seeing his dream of the unionization of college athletes. Today, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Colter et. al. and found that "players receiving scholarships from the Employer are employees." That means that college players are, for now, "labor."

This is not the start of pay for play or the beginning of you watching a player pull down big money for every rebound, Colter and his coterie have more modest goals revolving around safety and academic reform. According to SB Nation's own Jason Kirk "The ruling delivered by the NLRB contains details that all but shatter the myth of athletes having plenty of time to devote to academics, with repeated findings that players spend up to 50 hours per week on football." That, of course, is a major brick in the foundation of showing that the players that half the nation watches on Saturday afternoons, and those that we love to watch so much in March, are not primarily athletes.

The NCAA, of course, begs to differ:

We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid. Over the last three years, our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules. While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college. We want student athletes - 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues - focused on what matters most - finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life."

Where this goes from here is into the thicket of the American legal system. There won't be a sudden ruling and then a collegiate basketball players union by the end of next week, or probably even the end of next year. Still, the landscape is changing, and it is is changing inexorably.