Even the number of Wildcats who cast ballots was not released. The box was sealed pending a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.
Kain Colter, a senior who served as a quarterback and co-captain during the 2013 football season, welcomed the vote. Colter was one of the founders of the College Athletes Players Association.
“We’re one step closer to a world where college athletes are not stuck with sports related medical bills, do not lose their scholarships when they are injured are not subject to unnecessary brain trauma and are given better opportunities to complete their degrees,” Colter said.
Reporters were barred from the area where the vote was held. One player called the Chicago Tribune and said he was "80 percent sure" the team's 76 players would reject the union.
The player said he believed almost the entire team turned out to vote. Coach Pat Fitzgerald described himself as an advocate of "players' rights" and said having a union would "strain relationships," he said.
Peter Sung Ohr, regional director of the NLRB, ruled in February that players on football scholarships are Northwestern employees. The university has appealed the finding to the NLRB, which said Thursday it would take the case.
The Wildcats endured a losing streak that lasted more than 20 years from 1972 to 1994, including a 1981 game when students rushed the field chanting "we're the worst" after a 61-14 drubbing by Michigan State. In recent years, Northwestern has won three Big Ten championships and several awards for high graduation rates among its players.