If you see a flock of television news trucks on Ashland Avenue near Ryan Field Friday morning, know that they’ll be there to cover the voting by Northwestern University football players on whether to join a union.

The results of the secret-ballot vote vote may not be known for months, until the full National Labor Relations Board decides whether to uphold the decision by its Chicago regional director that the players should be free to unionize.

More on the university’s efforts to persuade players to vote against the union in this story today from the New York Times.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. NU’s anti-democratic activities are shameful for Evanston

    In response to the New York Times article linked to in your story detaling Northwestern's concerted anti-union efforts, I sent the message below to Morty Shapiro and other NU adminstrators. I hope other Evanston residents will weigh in as well.

    Dear President Shapiro:

    I am a long-time Evanston resident, and wish to let you know that I am appalled by Northwestern's anti-union campaign, as was detailed in today's New York Times. What you are engaging in is not only union-busting, but also heavy-handed, anti-democratic electioneering, unworthy of an institution of higher education devoted to the enlightened, fair-minded pursuit of truth and knowledge. Shame on you. As all Evanstonians have been made aware, Northwestern has just launched a multi-billion dollar capital campaign. So long as you engage in practices such as these, I will not contribute to your efforts, and will discourage my friends and neighbors — many of whom are NU students, alumni, faculty, or staff — from doing so as well.

    Northwestern missed an opportunity here. Instead of resisting this effort to unionize, Northwestern could have welcomed it instead, and become a leader in the effort to work, in a democratic fashion, with its players to reduce the exploitation and risk faced by student athletes. What the administration's concerted anti-union campaign underscores is exactly what the union's supporters have suggested: that Northwestern views its football players principally as a revenue-generating machine, and anything that threatens that — even if it would make for safer, fairer conditions for the players — must be quashed. 

    Evanston is a liberal, tolerant community, with a deep commitment to unfettered expression and democratic practice. Its residents are troubled, I believe, when they read the now-common stories about rich and powerful corporations, here in the U.S. and around the world, engaging in strong-arm tactics to undermine workers' efforts to organize. I hope they are just as disturbed by what is going on in their own home town. Northwestern's activities are an affront to what Evanston stands for, and should jeopardize your standing in our community.

    I look forward to your response.


    Toni Gilpin

    1. NU is probably operating in the red on athletics

      Northwestern is private so they don't have to release their atheltic department revenue, but I guarantee you it is in the red.

      There are only 12 schools nationally that operate in the black for athletics. Considering NU's low level of attendance for sports (even when football sells out, still a small stadium) there is no way they are in the black.

      Determine the players are employees, then it is a slippery slope to paying them. They can't afford it and will just shut down sports. Then Evanston's overall revenue source from football weekends is gone. Not to mention players will then have to pay taxes on the money they get probably resulting in less than what they get not in a union.

      In addition to free education, they get free athletic gear, free health care, free meals, free academic help, and free exposure for the few athletes good enough for the pros. It adds up to over $100k a year they are getting for playing football.

      1. In fact, NU was required to

        In fact, NU was required to release some (but not all) of its revenue information to the NLRB, and it precisely because its football program is so profitable that the that Board made its decision allowing players to unionize. Here is a quote from an article assessing the NLRB decision, from Forbes magazine, no less: 

        "The NLRB ruling shows just how profitable college football is for Northwestern University.  In addition to reaching an overall conclusion favorable to Northwestern University football players, p. 13 of the NLRB decision comprehensively breaks down the revenue and cost structure of the Northwestern University football program.  Although many presume that a football program such as that at Northwestern might be losing money, the opinion explains that the Northwestern University football program actually “generated $30.1 million in revenue and [just] had $21.7 million in expenses” for the 2012-13 academic year. ” This finding of $8.4 million in annual profits for Northwestern football calls into doubt any argument that Northwestern University would cease to operate as a result of yesterday’s finding that its athletes may unionize.  Shutting down Northwestern football would cost the university far too much money." 

        NU's program is a revenue-generating operation, and what value they extend to the athletes is more than recouped in what the players generate for the University. And please remember that the players are not asking to be paid. What they are seeking is more input into how they are treated: greater support for their medical care and due process for those athletes who lose their scholarships, for instance. Which is why, as I said, this is an argument about democracy. If NU supports that concept, the administration should be willing to include the players in discussions about issues to vital to their athletic (and scholastic) careers.

        1. Once Again
          Once again…you are out of your element. That miniscual $8.4mil goes towards all the other sports. The only revenue generating sports in college are football and basketball(somtimes; doubt it at NW due to no success); sometimes women’s basketball. Those two support every other sports resulting in overall “profit” in the red.

          Due to Title IX, they can’t eliminate women’s sports without elimitating mens as well. Well guess what, since football has so many scholarships it makes it hard to eliminate sports. So they either have to elminate all or nothing. You are just naiive if you think they will operate football in the red and keep everything.

    2. Speak for yourself Toni


      While i may agree with some of your points, you in no way represent the views of "Evanston"

      You state, "Its residents are troubled, I believe, when they read the now…"

      This is your view, and state it as such. You don't represent my view, nor the views of 74,999 other people. 

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments, but please don't try and speak on behalf of the community.

      Thank you


      P.S. some people in Evanston are liberal, but there are also many moderates, independents, and even some conservatives who live in our wonderfully diverse community

      1. I agree absolutely that

        I agree absolutely that Evanston is a community with diverse points of view; what unites us here, regardless of political perspective, I want to believe, is the unwavering commitment to the notion that everyone deserves to be heard. That's why NU's players are seeking a union: they want a mechanism which allows them to register their opinions about the athletic program which they sustain, and which obliges a response to the concerns they raise. They want a voice. They want to be treated with respect. These are the priciples essential to democracy that I hope (and that was my operative word, in regards to Evanston) everyone here — liberal, moderate, independent and conservative — would support. 

      2. 28% profit margin

        Mr. Paine,

        Make that 74,998. I agree with Toni. $8M on $30M is a nice profit. Collegiate sports are big business. It's amateur only because the players aren't paid- everybody else is (and well.) The universities don't have to pay a competitive wage to the players, so they build big, luxury training facilities to entice them instead. And the players are valued only so far as they're able to make the next big play.

        1. Wrong

          If you look at the football program in isolation, it shows some profit. However, when you have a football team, you are required by law to offer approximately 85 scholarships to females for sports. Those sports generate almost zero revenue and the scholarships and other expenses are funded by men's sports and if there is a shortfall, by the general fund of the University. So any cost analysis needs to include the Title IX mandated expenses as well. When you add in the other costs, plus general administration and overhead, NU loses a pretty penny every year on sports.

          I suspect that if things don't shake out right for NU and expenses are driven too high, they will go the U of C route and fold the scholarship athletics programs and withdraw from the Big Ten, to be replaced by Syracuse or Missouri. Evanston would forego taxes on tickets and merchants would be hurt when we lose those big crowds on gamedays. 

          1. Zero revenue?

            When was the last time you went to an NU sporting event? Every event has a ticket price. Even so, 85 female scholarships times, say, $60,000/yr is $5.1M, netting $3M, instead of $8M, a 10% profit.

            Regardless of the accounting, collegiate sports is a business and the recruited players are employees in all but name. The NLRB was correct in ruling so.

            BTW, the NU Womens' Lacrosse team is also rather successful, though not as profitable as football.

          2. You don’t know the difference
            You don’t know the difference between revenue and profit. Of course they sell tickets and food or mechandise at a baseball game. However, the expenses of upkeep of the field, transportation, coaching salaries, etc outweigh that. Goes for every sport except football or basketball.

            I hope you don’t run a business or have nothing to do with a busniess’ finances.

          3. I’ve been to many NU events

            The ticket revenue from women's events likely barely covers the cost of opening the facility in many "Olympic sports." Take women's softball, for instance, which will draw a few hundred people at $7 a pop ($3 for kids or groups). That is almost no revenue compared to the costs of the team. Furthermore, the $60k scholarship amount is on the low end, but I'll go with it and assume the 85 women's scholarships generate $500k in revenue (which is probably a very rosy assumption). Per your math, that would leave $3.5mm of "profit." But what you fail to understand is that then with those 85 scholarships, you have to pay coaches, upkeep on the facilities, travel (air/bus transit, meals and hotels), equipment, trainers and general overhead for a portion of the athletic department (compliance, ticketing, recruiting, etc.). Back that stuff out, and think about how much "profit" is left. 

            Let me clue in – it's negative. Northwestern loses money on its athletic department. I personally donate to the Wildcat Fund in order to get better football parking, but I also have season tickets to another Big Ten team and I'll say that if you think Northwestern athletics is a "business" you have absolutely no idea what is going on. If you want to see a "business" call up Ohio State or Michigan and ask them for season tickets. There are a handful of programs that make big money, the majority run around break even or at a loss. The vast majority of "profits" from football are reallocated into providing free educations to students in programs that generate very little revenue. Given what college costs, I'm more concerned about those kids than I am about the star football players. The star football players can get their paydays in the NFL. 

        2. Time to strip Northwestern’s tax exempt status

          Yes, Northwestern football and bassketball is big business indeed. Northwestern University operates like a for profit business and therefore should lose its tax exempt status.

          1. Not Profit, Revenue
            They actually don’t make anything off athletics since it doesn’t generate a profit. Just because one sport has a profit, doesn’t mean the entire department is a profit.

            So many people commenting that have no idea what they are talking about. I pray none of your are in the business world if you don’t know the difference between revenue and profit.

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