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Americans Mixed on the Prospect of College Athletes Unionizing

Last Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players who have scholarships and haven't exhausted their athletic eligibility are employees of the university, opening the door to them forming a union at their discretion.

It's a ruling that likely won't have immediate trickle-down effects to high school sports, but youth-athletes who plan on continuing their athletic careers at the postsecondary level could be affected by the decision.

How does the American public feel about the prospect of collegiate athletes unionizing? It's a mixed bag, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on March 23.

The public split right down the middle, 47-47, when asked whether they support or oppose "allowing college athletes to form a union, like the professional sports unions, to negotiate their rights and working conditions." (The remaining 6 percent had no opinion either way.) Sixty-six percent of non-whites and 64 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 18-39 supported the idea of unionizing, while only 38 percent of whites and 38 percent of those above the age of 40 did so.

However, only 1 in 3 Americans support the idea of paying salaries to college athletes beyond any scholarships they receive, according to the poll.

The Northwestern football players have expressed no interest to date in negotiating a pay-for-play scheme. Back in January, when they initially filed the petition with the NLRB, the players spoke of seeking improved concussion and other medical care, full-cost-of-attendance scholarships, and multi-year scholarships guaranteed for student-athletes who suffer career-ending injuries.

However, as Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde noted back in January, allowing college athletes to unionize could open the door for them to "take dead aim at the huge (and ever-growing) profits being made by college athletics' biggest programs."

As The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins suggests, the NLRB ruling opens more questions than answers, including whether all college athletes will eventually be permitted to unionize. However, many legal analysts believe the national NLRB board is unlikely to overturn the regional NLRB's decision, per ESPN.com's Tom Farrey, so these are issues that the NCAA may be forced to figure out.

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