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Following a federal decision that ruled football players at Northwestern University count as employees, UF President Bernie Machen is looking for ways to get the university’s student athletes paid.

Football players from Northwestern petitioned the university to allow them to unionize, which the Chicago National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of. Peter Ohr, the board’s regional director, found student athletes receiving grant-in-aid scholarships are employees of the university, giving them the right to unionize.

During last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, Machen discussed what the decision means for UF.

Machen said that he’s been involved in negotiations with the National Collegiate Athletic Association about the organization’s cap on athletic scholarships for about a year.

The NCAA limits how much a university can award student athletes, which Machen said ranges from $15,000 to $16,000 — which falls $5,000 short of UF’s roughly $21,000 average annual cost of attendance.

He said for the past 10 to 15 years, revenues from athletics have been steadily increasing, but most of that money goes to facilities and coaches’ salaries.

Along with the flow of money going toward support systems instead of students, he said the amount student athletes are being paid hasn’t changed in roughly 20 years.

“The irony is that we can pay more for an academic scholarship than we can for an athletic scholarship,” he said.

While negotiations are still underway, Machen has been exploring several options with five of the six football conferences to give more aid to student athletes. Paying athletes stipends and increasing academic support are both on the table.

Machen isn’t just looking to support football players. He wants to expand payment and support for all of the university’s athletes.

“There wouldn’t be just putting more money on the table,” he said. “It would be providing incentives, taking care of these athletes, making sure that they are able to get educated however it needs to be done.”

Although the conferences have been pushing for more autonomy when compensating student athletes, the NCAA took a stand against the federal decision.

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“While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees,” Donald Remy, the chief legal officer for the association, wrote in a statement. “We strongly disagree.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/1/2014 under the headline "Machen aims to pay athletes"]

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