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Accountant: Union Status Could Be ‘Hornets’ Nest’ For Northwestern Players

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CHICAGO (CBS) – With the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director in Chicago deciding Northwestern University football players qualify as employees of the university comes the question of whether they’d have to pay taxes on their scholarships.

Linda Forman’s accounting firm overlooks Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. She’s a former vice president of the Illinois CPA Society, and she said Northwestern football players might not have thought about all the ramifications of being called “employees” of the school.

“It’s just a hornets’ nest,” she said.

Forman said IRS could view their scholarships as income.

“They would have to look long and hard on how they’re going to structure this, because they’re going to have a lot of 18- to 22-year-olds with no visible means for paying for this tax”, she said. Income taxes on those scholarships could amount to a third of their value.

Base tuition at Northwestern University is about $45,000 a year. If that’s viewed by the IRS as income, Forman said it would be taxed. Social Security and Medicare deductions also would be made, not to mention what Uncle Sam and the State of Illinois would get in taxes. She said it would be a “significant” financial hit for an 18- to 22-year-old.

However, Forman said the IRS might instead view the scholarships as tuition reductions, which many universities give to their employees. Then it would be tax-free.