Reports out of Northwestern are that the unionization movement at the school might be coming to a close. While the NLRB is likely to uphold the regional ruling that players are considered employees, it looks doubtful that the players will vote to actually form a union.
But the union movement may still have a future. According to an ESPN.com survey of 300 top football recruits, 60 percent of the 2015 recruiting class is in favor of unionization for college athletes, and more than 86 percent are in favor of athletes receiving some sort of stipend.
In a follow-up interview, four-star Texas A&M tight end commitment Jordan Davis of Houston Clear Lake High School said he supports a stipend because "if they're selling our jerseys and playing with us on video games and things of that nature, we should receive something for it." Four-star receiver and Duke commitment Keyston Fuller of Griffin (Georgia) High School agreed and said college players should get something because "of all the media and attention college athletes bring to the universities."
Even if the Northwestern union vote fails — assuming the national board, which has been typically union-friendly and liberal under the Obama administration, upholds the regional decision — there's a chance we could see another school unionize in the near future, since it would still be possible for another private school to unionize under the act. Athletes at public schools would have to apply through their state boards, and schools in liberal right-to-work states could also be easy targets.
The player discussion at Northwestern was dominated by upperclassmen who vehemently disapproved of the union, but younger players could be more likely to vote for one. They've grown up in an era with much more public discourse on the topic than did this year's college seniors. Selfishly, they could see real change enacted during their time at school.
Of course, unions at individual schools could become somewhat of a moot point. If the O'Bannon lawsuit wins, then there could be a national union, or one per conference, that negotiates for players across the board, similar to the NFL-NFLPA set-up.
But even if the NCAA somehow gets out of O'Bannon scot-free — there's hardly any chance of that — it's clear that the organization and its membership will still be facing the threat of change for quite some time.