'Entertaining' a New College Athlete Unionization Structure


  • Joseph Sabin Southeastern Louisiana University
  • Sam C. Ehrlich Boise State University
  • Flory Bierma Southeastern Louisiana University
  • Andrew Goldsmith Colorado State University




NIL, NCAA, labor law, labor unions, entertainment law, intercollegiate sports


Between athletes still feeling short-changed despite name, image, and likeness (NIL) compensation and coaches and administrators feeling generally unhappy with the unregulated, “wild west” landscape of NIL, college sports is faced with two competing forces pushing college athletics in two distinctly different directions. There is an obvious solution to all of the strife in college sports: the legal recognition of college athletes as employees and the creation of a formally recognized college athlete labor union, allowing athletes to collectively bargain for a share of media rights revenues and other work conditions, while also allowing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to collectively bargain for more regulations and restrictions on NIL activity without facing antitrust scrutiny by virtue of the non-statutory labor exemption.

There are several unique challenges to organizing a labor union comprised of athletes, including the breadth and variety of their negotiating interests. However, there is a robust union that has been in operation since the 1930s that may provide a baseline framework: the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). In this article, we explore potential frameworks for a college athlete union by using SAG-AFTRA and other major unions as templates. SAG-AFTRA’s unique national-local structure serves as a guide for how to create a robust and effective college athlete union that meets all sides’ interests in reforming college sports.

Author Biographies

Joseph Sabin, Southeastern Louisiana University

Joseph Sabin, JD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. His research interests include legal issues in college athletics and labor issues in sport.

Sam C. Ehrlich, Boise State University

Sam C. Ehrlich, JD/PhD, is an assistant professor of legal studies in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. His research interests include labor relations in sports, including college athlete employment status, name, image, and likeness policies, and related legislation.

Flory Bierma, Southeastern Louisiana University

Flory Bierma is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. She was also a member of the Southeastern Louisiana women’s tennis team from 2018-2023, serving as team captain from 2022-2023.

Andrew Goldsmith, Colorado State University

Andrew Goldsmith, PhD, is an assistant professor and the director of the Colorado Rockies Sport Management Institute at Colorado State University. His research interests include ethical decision making, whistleblowing and organizational behavior.






Original Research