Does a Union Hurt College Football or Just Northwestern?
A lot is being made out of the potential unionization at Northwestern and the larger implications for college football. Since this initial step toward creating a union of college athletes has began only at Northwestern, it remains an open question how widespread any changes resulting from this move are likely to be. In short, is this everyone's problem or just Northwestern's?
You didn't need a players' union to predict problems for Northwestern. While the school has enjoyed brief periods of success, it's generally struggled to be a consistent winner on the football field over the years. You can point to high admission standards which keep them out of the bidding for some of the top athletes in the country. They also don't have particularly impressive facilities, tradition, or fan support. The Chicago Bears garner more interest from football fans in the vicinity.
Kain Colter, while making noise off the field, has exhausted his eligibility and will no longer be a factor on the field. His absence will make it much easier for opponents to key on standout running back Venric Mark. The Wildcats have a 2014 schedule that includes trips to Penn State, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Minnesota along with home contests against Cal, Northern Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. They have to win at least three of those games (and beat Illinois, Purdue and an FCS school) just to have a chance to appear in a bowl game.
Union or no union, things weren't looking too bright for the Wildcats. Add to that something that may cause conflict with coaches or administrators at the school and things don't look much better in terms of creating a whole that will need to be better than the sum of its parts (if you believe recruiting rankings anyway).
If unionization took hold nationally at schools across the board, the effect would seem fairly uniform in terms of its impact on programs. But if a single program adds this element, while facing other enormous challenges, it seems unlikely that they are headed to prosperity in the near future.