[Updated (8/17/2015, 1:26 p.m.) with comments from Northwestern and from a leader of the union drive.]
The National Labor Relations Board declined on Monday to rule on whether Northwestern University football players are employees of the college, effectively dooming their bid to unionize. The ruling supersedes a regional office’s 2014 decision in the players’ favor.
In its decision, the board wrote that considering the athletes’ case “would not promote stability in labor relations,” and cited “recent changes, as well as calls for additional reforms” as evidence that “the situation of scholarship players may well change in the near future.”
The decision renders moot the results of the athletes’ vote last year on whether they would unionize. Those ballots were impounded while the full NLRB considered the case.
The athletes had said that they were seeking long-term health care and better educational assistance. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and Northwestern argued against the union drive, saying the athletes were primarily students and didn’t qualify as university employees.
In a statement, Northwestern said it was “pleased” with the board’s ruling. “As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost.” The college added that it “applauded” the athletes for “bringing national attention to these important issues.”
Ramogi Huma, who helped lead the union drive, told CBS Sports the decision was “obviously disappointing,” but that it represented “a delay” rather than a loss.
It was not immediately clear whether the athletes would challenge the labor board’s ruling in court.