As college football players at Northwestern attempt to form a union, an NFL CEO who previously served as the Wildcats A.D. thinks a proliferation of unionization could affect pro football in one very specific way.
“[T]he NCAA colleges have served as a great breeding ground for NFL teams over the years,” Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy writes in response to a fan question submitted to Packers.com. “If the college players unionize, there will be more pressure on the NFL to establish a developmental league.”
Murphy doesn’t explain how the presence of unions at the NCAA level would pressure the league to create a developmental league. And the connection isn’t immediately clear.
Currently, college football provides the sole developmental program for the NFL, honing players’ skills and forcing the NFL-caliber cream to the top. It’s possible that Murphy (who is the closest thing the Packers have to an actual owner) and other owners believe that enough colleges would drop football to require the NFL to fill the void with a minor league system.
It’s also possible that the NFL fears college football will attempt to pass along some of the costs of unionized college football, imposing significant fees for the ability to scout players and obtain game film. At some point, the expenses could become sufficiently significant that the NFL decides to say, “Screw it, we’ll form our own developmental league and compete with college football.”
Or it could be that the NFL will merely talk about forming a developmental league to ensure that college football doesn’t get any ideas about covering the costs of paying players by trying to collect new and sizable revenues from the NFL.
Regardless, if college football programs become legally required to pay players, significant changes will occur. Given the benefits the NFL receives from the free farm system of college football, significant changes to college football inevitably will impact pro football.