CHICAGO — A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago has ruled that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first college athlete’s union.

The decision means the NLRB agrees that the athletes qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize.

The university argued against the plan, which was started by outgoing Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and supported financially by the United Steelworkers union.

Northwestern says it plans to appeal to the full labor board in Washington, D.C.