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College Football Unionization: Could Boston College Be Next To Unionize?

Nearly every Division I college football-playing private university is concerned that the unionization movement could be headed their way. Is Boston College next to follow in Northwestern's footsteps?

Matt Marton-USA; TODAY Sports

Last week, nearly every Division I college football-playing private university sent a letter to the National Labor Relations Board, urging it to overturn its decision that deemed Northwestern football players employees of the university.

Leaders at these private schools are concerned that the college football union movement could be headed their way, which makes sense, seeing as the NLRB's ruling only applies to private schools. Similar attempts by players to form a union at public schools would be governed by the specific state's laws on unions of public employees. Those laws vary by state.

Things have been very quiet regarding Northwestern football players attempt to unionize. That's because while players voted on whether or not to unionize back in April, the votes have been impounded until the university's appeal of the regional NLRB is decided -- a process that could takes months to years. So a story that dominated headlines earlier in the year is in a rather anticlimactic holding pattern.

While Northwestern moves forward with the appeal process, many have wondered who's next? education reporter Libby Nelson and's Matt Brown and Kevin Trahan mulled it over and put Boston College at the top of said list:

"Immediately, the conversation turned to Boston College as the most likely place a union could take hold. Boston is a generally liberal city, and some lawmakers there are even trying to put together a city-wide "College Athletes Bill of Rights."


Collectively, we came up with a ranking from likeliest to least likely to be the subject of a union attempt:

1. Boston College
2. Rice
3. Stanford
4. Duke
5. Vanderbilt
6. Syracuse
7. Miami
8. Notre Dame
9. USC
10. Wake Forest
11. Tulane
12. TCU
13. Tulsa
14. Baylor
15. SMU
16. BYU

The criteria for ranking the schools in this way included: schools that don't have conservative (and therefore likely anti-union) alumni bases, that tend to be mediocre at football, and that have pretty tough admission standards (and assumedly pretty smart athletes).

Is Boston College "mediocre at football?" On a rather short (thanks Spaz) or long-enough timeline, I guess? Though BC does have a Heisman Trophy, a claimed National Championship and a better all-time winning percentage than all but four of those above schools (Notre Dame, USC, Miami and Syracuse*).

The College Athlete Bill of Rights proposed by Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim is cited as another reason why BC should top this list, though that bill has already drawn its fair share of local criticism from Boston-area schools. I view the proposed bill as more Zakim trying to make a name for himself rather than a bellwether for the unionization movement hitting the Heights. Most of the issues brought up in the College Athlete Bill of Rights revolve around player safety; things that the NCAA will likely proactively address through legislation, rather than being forced to by outside representation.

There's also this interesting tidbit explaining why fellow Catholic school Notre Dame may not be the next Northwestern:

It's not clear if religious colleges even fall under the NLRB's jurisdiction. Several local boards have said they do, but Catholic colleges point to a 1979 Supreme Court case that blocked Catholic school faculty from organizing. (The national board is exploring the issue in cases related to adjunct faculty.) - Libby Nelson

Personally, I'd be surprised if Boston College is the next to vote on unionization. As an outsider looking in, I'm not sure the current climate is right for a union vote. And, if I had to guess, the ACC will soon join the Pac-12 and Big Ten in endorsing four-year scholarships and additional student-athlete benefits. Given the sheer volume of private schools in the conference -- five of the 16 listed above call the ACC home, as does Notre Dame for all sports except football -- the ACC would be wise to get out in front of this debate. The promise of four-year scholarships and additional benefits might be enough to convince players at schools like BC, Miami and Duke that they could get what they want without forming a union.

It's important to note, however, that even if it never comes to a vote, or if it does and players vote not to unionize, Boston College football players are still technically employees of the school so long as the national board upholds the regional board's decision. While Northwestern is appealing the ruling, it will be difficult for the school to find a legal precident to help in its appeal. NLRB's regional director Peter Sung Ohr even anticipates an appeal in his opinion, outlining why former rulings do not apply to this case.

Regardless of which private school next votes on unionizing, the regional NLRB's ruling is the first step in a process that could completely change the NCAA's model of amateurism. If the ruling is upheld, it would give athletes a voice in issues surrounding worker's compensation, benefits and eventually, even payments for their efforts. The regional NLRB's ruling definitely has the attention of the nation's Division I college football-playing private universities, and justifiably so.

* Amazingly, Syracuse has BC beat by by a .00001 winning percentage margin. Basically, last year's last-second Orange victory over the Eagles.