As Paul M. Barrett at Businessweek writes:
The very foundation of the $16 billion-a-year college sports industry is trembling. In a landmark ruling, the National Labor Relations Board said that Northwestern University’s football team has the right to unionize.
The players have a fair case based on the vast revenue they raise for the institutions they attend, the serious medical risks they take, and the time and attention they must devote to fulfill the terms of their bargain – an education for a conference championship, bowl bid, and even possible national championship.
There is, also, the plain reality that the players have very little leverage and that the universities they attend often do not live up to their end of the implicit bargain. That, in fact, they do not provide the players with a university education. As demonstrated by the example of the University of North Carolina:
… where football and basketball players for years were funneled into fake classes that never met.
Still, the ruling raises all sorts of interesting possibilities and scenarios. Will there be work rules limiting the number of times a safety can be called on to blitz or a wideout to go over the middle? Will playing time be limited? Or guaranteed? Unions famously go to battle to save the jobs of employees that management would dearly like to be rid of. So will the union take players out on strike over the right of some third-stringer to get some reps.
And, most intriguing of all, what about right to work states? Will SEC teams vote not to unionize? And, if so, how will a showdown between, say, non-union Alabama and unionized Northwestern work out?
And, will the union – whatever it is called – do for college football what the UAW did for the American automobile industry?