B1G 40: How will union cloud affect Northwestern?

B1G 40: How will union cloud affect Northwestern?
June 26, 2014, 10:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.

How will Northwestern handle the cloud of the offseason unionization attempt?

It would appear that it won't affect the team very much.

It's somewhat surprising to learn that after so much offseason talk has centered around the Wildcats and their unprecedented attempt to unionize this winter. Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback, kickstarted all this with a press conference announcing the Cats had signed union cards and the National Labor Relations Board would hold hearings to determine whether or not the football players at Northwestern could be considered employees. It was the landmark step in the increasingly rapid march toward big change in college athletics. Colter said at his press conference that he and his group, the College Athletes Players Association, would fight for collective-bargaining rights to try to bring about reformations to scholarships and medical care for injured student-athletes. He said nearly all the players currently on the team had signed the union cards.

[B1G 40: Will Illini defense show improvement?]

Then the NLRB ruled that the Northwestern players did qualify as employees and had the right to form a union.

It seemed like a major victory for Colter and his group and for reformists in general. It seemed like it would shake up the NCAA and the entire landscape of college athletics. But that hasn't happened yet, and it doesn't it looks increasingly unlikely that it will anytime soon, at least at Northwestern.

Since the NLRB's ruling, things have moved ever-further away from unionization. Despite Colter's claims that nearly every player on the team signed union cards initially, word came out of Northwestern — specifically from Colter's successor at quarterback, Trevor Siemian — that most of the team voted "no" in the vote on whether to unionize. Those results haven't been released as the university is still appealing the NLRB's ruling. But Siemian has publicly voiced opinions against a union at Northwestern, and offensive lineman Brandon Vitabile said that "change wouldn't happen" at Northwestern, given how well the student-athletes were already treated.

[MORE BIG TEN: Siemian on Northwestern union: 'It's not even an issue now']

Then just this week the Big Ten university presidents released a statement proposing reforms that would accomplish many of the goals Colter and his group are fighting for (scholarship reform, expanded financial medical assistance). It seemed to to provide a reasonable end to Colter's fight while boxing out the players at the same time, dealing another blow to any potential union.

The bottom line appears to be that on the field, the unionization attempt will be the last thing on minds of Pat Fitzgerald's team. Siemian recently said that "it's not even an issue now" among the players. He seemed to approach the situation as more of a team-building experience than a confrontational one. If there were differences of opinion, Siemian indicates the team has put them behind it.

So when the national college football media descends on Evanston for fall camp and perhaps even the season opener, will there be a story to write other than the fizzling of what could have been one of the bigger stories in college football history? Will there be any quotes to report that differ from Siemian's? The answers to those questions won't be known until others on and around the team share their opinions. But if offseason comments are to be believed, it would appear the Northwestern unionization attempt will be a big concern — for everyone besides Northwestern.