EVANSTON, Ill. —
Last month's decision NLRB official Peter Ohr sent shockwaves through the world of college sports, prompting sharp criticism from the NCAA, Northwestern and college athletic departments nationwide. While the ruling would apply only to private universities — they are subject to federal labor law while public schools are under state law — many saw the decision as a first step toward the end of the traditional "student-athlete."
The 76 scholarship football players eligible to cast ballots know the spotlight is on them, said Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, which would represent the players at the bargaining table if the pro-union side prevails.
Some of the pressure the players feel stems from dire Northwestern claims about the consequences of unionization, Huma said Thursday.
"They're looking at anything and everything to invoke fear in the players," said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker. "We feel like some of the tactics are scare tactics."
Northwestern, which was required by law to let the vote proceed, denied applying undue pressure on players to vote "no." It did send a 21-page question-and-answer document to the players outlining the problems with forming a union. In it, Northwestern said it hoped unionization would not lead to player strikes in the event of a dispute — but that if it did, replacement players could be brought in to cross picket lines.
"The tension created in such a situation would be unprecedented and not in anyone's best interest," it said.
The school also said divisions could emerge between scholarship players eligible for union membership and walk-ons, coaches and staff.
"There is no question but that the presence of a union would add tension in terms of creating an 'us' versus 'them' feeling between the players it would represent and those it would not," it said.