Northwestern University has formally requested that the National Labor Relations Board overrule and reverse a decision by one of its regional directors that said the school's athletes were really employees and therefore had the right to unionize.

"While we respect the NLRB process, we disagree strongly with the regional director's opinion. We hope that the full NLRB will not only review this decision but will hold that Northwestern's football scholarship athletes are not employees, and the petition seeking an election for the players to vote on union representation will be dismissed," said Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations, in a statement Wednesday.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr said in a March 26 ruling that because the players received scholarship money and were subject to special rules that did not apply to other university students, they were in fact "employees" of the university and not "primarily students." He ordered an "immediate election." A vote was subsequently set for April 25.

While the ruling applied only to Northwestern athletes, it has major implications for college athletics generally, being the first time a student athlete group has been granted collective bargaining rights. Other groups could cite it as a precedent should they try to unionize.

The university argued in its brief that Ohr ignored contradictory evidence, primarily the fact that its college athletes have a 97-percent graduation rate. The rate "demonstrates the emphasis that Northwestern places on the academic success of its student-athletes," Cubbage said.