College Football’s future in a unionized world

Later this week the world of college football (and college sports in general) changes in a major way. Not only will the NCAA Board of Governors vote on proposed autonomy for the “Power 5” conferences on Thursday, but the first ever college players union vote will take place at Northwestern just 24 hours later.

It’s a scary time for all, with so much unknown until those two votes take place. However, we luckily have brought back the trusted “Crystal Ball” here at CBR and we have the answers to the biggest question out there — What will college football look like in a unionized world?

The simple answer is, it won’t be anything like what we currently know and love. In fact, the future of this sport isn’t nearly as bright as the high we’ve all experienced over the last few years.

What does the college football world look like if Northwestern players say yes to a union? To answer that question, let’s fast-forward five years.

It’s a land very foreign to the college football fan of today, one that is hard to recognize. Not only are there player unions sweeping across private schools, but there has been a massive split in the college football landscape.

Think of the split that began in the 1970’s, when Ivy League schools and others didn’t want to be forced to offer athletic scholarships to its players. Only, in the future, it’s the haves and the have not’s of unionized schools and non-union schools.

With a handful of private schools having unions conference alignment no longer exists the way we think of it and there’s a brand new power in college football — one that doesn’t have the letters NCAA associated with it actually.

Let us introduce you to the newly formed National Association of Private Schools (NAPS for short). It’s the group that houses all private colleges that have unions and are paying players to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

That means 17 schools have become members of the institution, with a look at adding another set of private schools willing to compete at the top level and pay players while in school too. In fact, in a shock move, the Ivy League sees an opportunity to become nationally relevant and joins the newly formed collegiate organization, allowing them more freedom than the NCAA rules allow and a chance to flex the mighty muscle that huge endowment funds will allow.

It means there is no post-season for the smaller of the two organizations, but with Notre Dame, USC and the money that is the Ivy League in the fold there is plenty of money to be had in the new organization.

Why just those private schools splitting off? Well, that’s because the National Labor Relations Board ruling that happened back in 2014 and the subsequent union vote that was a “Yes” at Northwestern only applies to private employers.

Public schools aren’t bound by anything the NLRB says, and with its ruling and the Northwestern “Yes” vote, a great schism occurs that quickly splits the two types of colleges.

The split becomes very evident quickly, and goes something like this:

For Northwestern, the union (backed by major labor leaders) moves to strike if they aren’t paid just two years in to its time at the school — because anyone who believes payment of players isn’t the ultimate goal isn’t paying attention to the lawsuits happening and the millions of dollars being spent on assessing the monetary value of a college football player.

It forces the hand of the Big Ten, because the conference has always been an all-or-nothing proposition. Once you are in the club, what goes for you goes for everyone else.

We all know what happens next, as the Big Ten kicks Northwestern out of the club rather than go the pay-for-play route. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was clear from the get-go about going DIII instead of paying players, declaring in the Ed O’Bannon case the following:

“Several alternatives to a ‘pay for play’ model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten’s philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes.”

It’s that scenario and Northwestern’s newly independent status that sparks the formation of the NAPS. In just a few quick seasons, those schools in the NAPS become the most popular for top athletes (because honestly what 17-year-old isn’t all about the money) and are quickly powerful forces in collegiate sports.

Public schools are left wanting to pay players, but stuck because of various state and federal laws that will prevent student-athletes from

The NCAA still exists, but it is the house of only public schools and is looking at ways to modify it’s stance on paying players to maintain it’s relevancy in the face of the newly formed NAPS.

Just five years in and the college football world is facing a major choice. The five major conferences of today’s world, with their new alignments thanks to the split of 17 schools, must decide their fate.

Either they all become pay-for-play institutions or they change the model of how scholarships are offered to ones based on academic prowess and need-based financial aid for school.

The Big Ten is clear in its stance, while the SEC sits on the other side of the fence and there can only be one winner.

Don’t think any of this could happen? We’re betting you never thought you’d see the day when Syracuse wasn’t in the Big East or Missouri was playing for an SEC championship either. Yet both things have already happened.

There are a lot of variables and what-ifs at stake in the current climate, and should Northwestern vote “Yes” on a players union, all bets are off. The landscape of college football as we know it will alter in a very significant way, that’s about the only guarantee.

Our advice, buckle up for a bumpy ride and see what happens when we exit the dark tunnel that are the next few years ahead. College football never ceases to amaze and confound, so why should the future be any different?

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!