If you were a university administrator, would you treat scholarship football players as university employees and grant them the benefits other university employees have, including the worker’s compensation right to unionize? If you were on the football team, would you vote to unionize?

A National Labor Relations Board official took a historic step last month in ruling that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be considered employees of the university and therefore had the right to unionize like other workers.

And then, almost immediately, Northwestern began a wide-ranging campaign to defeat a unionization vote, which is scheduled for Friday.

The president emeritus publicly said that a vote for the union could mean the end of Division I sports at Northwestern. A former quarterback visited the team to encourage players to vote no. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former football star who is revered on campus, has framed a vote for the union as a personal betrayal.

“Understand that by voting to have a union, you would be transferring your trust from those you know — me, your coaches and the administrators here — to what you don’t know — a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” Fitzgerald wrote to the team in an email.

The university’s push has not been all ominous warnings, though. Players were given new iPads when they arrived for the first day of practice after the N.L.R.B. decision, though the university said the iPads were unrelated to the union process and had been in the planning for months. That afternoon, players were taken to a bowling alley for a team party.

“What the university has tried to do is to communicate clearly the university’s position to the student-athletes who are going to be voting in the election,” the university spokesman Alan Cubbage said. “We have done so following the guidelines and procedures outlined by the National Labor Relations Board. Our position is that we believe that our student-athletes are primarily students. That has not changed.”

Indeed, since the day of the N.L.R.B. ruling, Northwestern’s message to the players has been consistent and clear: Vote no — for yourselves, for the team and for the university. Northwestern and many others in the college sports world see the creation of a players union as an existential threat to the foundation of the N.C.A.A., and to their athletic programs.

Northwestern’s campaign has been a textbook case of how to aggressively battle a union, labor experts say. It adds up to a lot of pressure riding on the broad shoulders of the 76 football players who are eligible to vote Friday by secret ballot. The results may not be known for months while the full N.L.R.B. deliberates on an appeal.

“These are 18- and 20-year-old kids,” said Earl Jones, the father of running back Malin Jones. “This is a really big decision. As a parent, I’m trying to get all the information I can, and I hope my son is, too.”

No one has accused the university of breaking any law. Northwestern is allowed to express its opinion on unionization, though it cannot make explicit promises in exchange for votes.

The formation of a union would mean that the football players were university employees, not students competing in their free time, and that they could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance and some portion of the revenue generated by college sports. The College Athletes Players Association is seeking to represent the players.

“Student-athletes don’t have a voice; they don’t have a seat at the table,” Kain Colter, a former Northwestern quarterback who is the leader of the unionization effort, said in January. “The current model resembles a dictatorship, with the N.C.A.A. placing these rules and regulations on these students without their input or without their negotiations.”

For its part, Northwestern has not been content to let the vote play out on its own. As a result, Northwestern officials, from the assistant football coaches up to the university president, have pulled out all the stops to squash the union before it is formed.

Fitzgerald has held one-on-one meetings with players, along with mandatory meetings for the scholarship football players. The coach has written letters to the players and their parents. Position coaches have also been in contact with players’ parents.

“In my heart, I know that the downside of joining a union is much bigger than the upside,” Fitzgerald wrote in the April 14 letter he emailed to his team. “You have nothing to gain by forming a union.”

The fate of the unionization effort at Northwestern has captivated the sports world, labor leaders and elected officials in Washington, many of whom met the union organizers this month.

Several players turned down interview requests, but some stated at spring practice this month that they intended to vote against the union.

“We back Coach Fitz 100 percent wholeheartedly,” wide receiver Kyle Prater said.

Familiar anti-union arguments, that the business will close or move out of town if a union is formed, have been tweaked for the college football setting.

Players have heard warnings that the formation of a union would make it harder for them to land jobs after graduation; that Fitzgerald might leave; that alumni donations would dry up; that Northwestern’s planned $225 million athletic center could be scrapped.

The women’s fencing coach told his team that a union could put the future of fencing in jeopardy, though he later apologized.

“It sounds like a vigorous, strenuous anti-union campaign that employers often employ when they’re determined to defeat unionization efforts,” said Fred Feinstein, a former N.L.R.B. general counsel.

In recent weeks, the university put together a 21-page document for the football team answering questions that Northwestern officials said they had received through an anonymous suggestion box, emails and phone calls.

The document, which was first reported by CBSSports.com, highlighted Northwestern’s track record of strong academics and fair treatment of its players.

And it left no doubt about what administrators believed was in the university’s best interests.

“This is not what we wanted — how can we get back to being students and not employees?” read one question that was apparently submitted by an anonymous player.

Northwestern’s answer: The “process has to go forward, but you can still express your desire to ‘get back to being students’ by voting ‘No.’ ”

Dan Persa, a former quarterback who played for Fitzgerald from 2007 to 2011, has been among the most vocal in urging the players to vote down the union, according to two people who have spoken to the players.

Persa said he opposed a union because it would introduce so much uncertainty, but, in an interview, he insisted that his only goal was to make sure players were informed before they voted. He has visited Northwestern’s football facilities to make his views known. “No one knows what could happen,” Persa said. “That’s scary.”

Several alumni were so concerned with how players were being influenced that they organized a meeting last week at a community center here.

“We decided this is not right because it’s interfering with the process the players voted for, that they established,” said Kevin Brown, a defensive back during the 1980s. “It should be able to play itself out without guys hearing messages that they’re hurting their school.”

The union would be certified by obtaining a simple majority, though the ballots will not be counted while the full five-person N.L.R.B. decides whether it will review the case, or while it prepares its own ruling. That could take months.

Tim Waters, the political director of the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported the players’ organizing effort, declined to comment on whether the union had considered filing a complaint with the N.L.R.B. over Northwestern’s actions.

Meanwhile, college administrators across the country and the N.C.A.A. continue to watch Northwestern closely.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that said college students cannot be employees. Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, called a union “grossly inappropriate.”

Some of the pressure will end Thursday, according to N.L.R.B. rules, which forbid mandatory meetings the day before unionization votes. Then, the players will have their say.

If you were an entrepreneur, would you name your healthy fiber company “Holy Crap”? Is it ethical to use such phrases as a company’s name?

Corin and Brian Mullins thought they had a good name for their debut product, a nonallergenic, high-fiber breakfast cereal, until a supremely satisfied customer called to praise the product’s effectiveness.

“Holy crap,” the customer began.

After Ms. Mullins hung up, she and her husband enjoyed a good laugh. Ms. Mullins, a retired Canada Air flight attendant, quickly got back to making the next batch of Hapi Food cereal — the name evoking the Egyptian god of annual Nile flooding — that she planned to sell at a farmers market near their home on the British Columbia coast north of Vancouver.

But Mr. Mullins, whose career had been spent in marketing communications, allowed his thoughts to wander mischievously. Heavy on chia and hemp seeds, the cereal he and his wife had first concocted in 2009 was extremely high in fiber. Why not just call it Holy Crap?

At first, Ms. Mullins demurred. But when the couple shared the notion with members of the business class they were taking as fledgling entrepreneurs, everybody loved it. So they made up some new labels with the bold name and planned a test. Their first day at the farmers market, Ms. Mullins had sold 10 bags of cereal under the old name; two weeks later, when she set up again with the new name, she sold 100 bags. The couple, both in their early 60s, have worked to keep up with demand ever since.

Not long ago, a cereal called Holy Crap might have been the punch line of a joke. Or it might have been banned. Few would have expected annual sales to grow to $5.5 million in four years.

Consider this recollection from an entrepreneur looking to name his initial venture, a record store, in 1969: “It smacked of new and fresh and at the time the word was still slightly risqué, so, thinking it would be an attention-grabber, we went with it.” That is Richard Branson on naming his company Virgin. And back when the Yellow Pages was one of the most-thumbed books in the land, sly company founders named their businesses A-1 this or AAA that to appear atop the category listings.

Nowadays, the bar for grabbing attention has moved much higher — or lower. You can now sip wines called Sassy Bitch and Fat Bastard, bite into a Kickass Cupcake, and order a breakfast sandwich at a Los Angeles restaurant called Eggslut.

Have we gotten to the point where pretty much anything goes? And are provocative, cheeky, even crude company and product names good for business?

“If you’re selling church song books or your customers are in the Bible Belt, it’s probably not a good idea,” said Eli Altman, creative director at a branding company called A Hundred Monkeys and author of “Don’t Call It That,” a guide to the naming process. But, Mr. Altman added, “with today’s seven-second site visits and 2 percent click-through rates, I think it’s significantly more risky to have a boring name than to have a risqué one.”

Naama Bloom, 41, left a small software company to start a business in Manhattan selling tampons by subscription online. Recalling a common euphemism of her childhood, among girls and women, Ms. Bloom named her 2013 start-up HelloFlo. She knew the name was cheeky, she said, “but my background is in marketing.”

While she was planning her venture, two similar businesses popped up with names that were more feminine but also more vague: Le Parcel and Juniper. That left Ms. Bloom even happier with her decision. “Juniper and Le Parcel are lovely services,” she said, “but you wouldn’t know what they were without knowing what they were. Whereas, our name, while it’s bold, speaks to a very specific audience: women who say, ‘My Aunt Flo is in town.’ ”

When Carey Smith began making industrial fans, he called his company HVLS Fan Company — HVLS being shorthand for high volume, low speed. Soon, he started getting calls asking about his oversize, “big ass fans.” Eventually, Mr. Smith, now 61, changed the name of the company to Big Ass Fans. The change played well with clients and potential customers, but not in the company’s conservative, churchgoing hometown, Lexington, Ky.

For a time, the Lexington City Council considered forcing the company to remove its name from the side of its building. And the postmaster in Louisville refused to deliver a batch of its promotional postcards. That, Mr. Smith said, led to a “great story” in the local newspaper. Asked if somebody at the company had tipped off the newspaper, he answered: “Maaaaaaybe,” drawing out the word suggestively.

In the years since, Big Ass Fans has grown dramatically, but it continues to capitalize on the controversy stirred by its name, which Mr. Smith characterized as a whole lot of sanctimonious braying about a farm animal common in his home state. The company’s mascot, Fanny, which appears on its logo and as a promotional squeeze toy, is a big-eared ass, most often depicted from the rear looking back toward its tail.

The company, which now makes smaller residential fans as well, gives away so many promotional items sporting the logo — baseball caps, T-shirts, coffee mugs — that it has a department just to handle the items. “For everyone who thinks we’re the Antichrist, there are a hundred who think this is the funniest thing ever,” Mr. Smith said.

Funny is a tried-and-true sales lubricant. “Everybody likes a little tongue in cheek,” said Kellie Peterson, chief strategy officer at DNC Holdings, a web name registration company. Ms. Peterson said she saw salacious names all the time driving around Tampa, Fla., where her company has an office — including a nearby shop called Master Bait & Tackle. The “potential downside of a profane name,” she said, “is that it’s in your URL and part of your email address.”

The dangers include having outgoing emails blocked by spam filters. That happened to Big Ass Fans a few years ago but not much any more. What has changed, said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path, a company specializing in email analytics, is that most big email providers now use sophisticated reputation-based filtering and rely less on simply flagging offensive words.

In 1999, when David Hall, was running a construction company bearing his name in Aurora, Ontario, he decided to concentrate on home renovations and leave the scaffolding portion of his business behind. With one last scaffolding job to complete, he thought he would make it fun for his workers.

The job was a 10-story hotel by one of the busiest highways in the metropolitan Toronto area. From his scaffolding, Mr. Hall draped a huge banner that would soon become his company’s name: Mammoth Erection. Heads turned. Smiles cracked. And the image of a hairy, tusked creature was added to the company logo. Most important, Mr. Hall said, “People started calling and calling. We never did another home renovation after the one we were working on.”

The humor may be sophomoric but Mr. Hall credits the name with doubling his revenue in the first few years. “Surprisingly, there haven’t been many people upset with our name,” he said. “We do a lot of work for churches. Even the priests usually have a nice little chuckle.”

Still, companies traveling this route may need to consider accommodating certain clients. Corin and Brian Mullins, for example, package their cereal for Boy Scout fund-raisers with the original name, Hapi Food. And they may do likewise when they export to the Middle East. “In the Muslim world,” Ms. Mullins said, “you have to be sensitive to the word holy.”

The middle class in Canada now earn more money than the middle class in the U.S., and poor in Europe now earn more money than the poor in the U.S.  As a result, should U.S. industries take any action to reverse this trend? If so, what actions?

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

In European countries hit hardest by recent financial crises, such as Greece and Portugal, incomes have of course fallen sharply in recent years.

The income data were compiled by LIS, a group that maintains the Luxembourg Income Study Database. The numbers were analyzed by researchers at LIS and by The Upshot, a New York Times website covering policy and politics, and reviewed by outside academic economists.

The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

LIS counts after-tax cash income from salaries, interest and stock dividends, among other sources, as well as direct government benefits such as tax credits.

If you were a college president, would you institute a race-based affirmative action program to attract more African-Americans and Latinos to diversify your student body? Would you create an income-based affirmative action program to attract more low-income students to diversify your student body?

Leaders in higher education, upset by Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision upholding Michigan’s ban on race-based preferences in college admissions, said the ruling would nudge them further along the path of finding alternative means to promote diversity in their student bodies.

Race remains a permissible element in admissions in states without such a ban, and many educators hailed the dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which emphasized the continuing significance of race. Still, they said affirmative action appeared to have a limited future.

“Most of us have already started to look at other variables than race, especially first-generation students, and low-income students,” said Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. In debates taking place in various parts of the country, many educators have argued that such methods produce diversity but far less effectively.

The California Senate, seeking to increase minority representation at state university campuses, passed a bill this year that would have eliminated Proposition 209, that state’s 1996 ban on racial preferences. The bill was backed by many Latinos, but opposed by many Asian groups. Last month, the State Assembly speaker sent it back to the Senate without taking any action.

This month, in what could become the next round of affirmative-action litigation, the Virginia-based Project on Fair Representation set up websites featuring photos of Asian students in an attempt to find plaintiffs for race-based discrimination suits against Harvard, the University of North Carolina and the University of Wisconsin.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, has argued that colleges can achieve diversity without considering race, through such measures as admitting the top students from each high school in the state, taking family income into account and ending preferences for legacy students.

“Colleges don’t want to do it because they’d rather assemble a class of wealthy students of all colors,” he said.

Some who support state bans on racial preferences said such prohibitions might spread as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

Roger Clegg, president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, said he hoped to see the bans proliferate, whether through ballot initiatives or legislation.

“Not every state has ballot initiatives, but where ballot initiatives are not available, state legislatures should act,” he said. “And where state legislatures won’t act, then action should be taken at the local level.”

But some of the prime movers behind the bans said they did not expect a flurry of new ones — in part because they believed their fight against racial preferences was mostly won.

“I think this issue is largely settled,” said Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute. “Most Americans have made up their minds that the government should not treat people differently based on race, and they’re kind of impatient that we continue to wrestle with the question.”

Mr. Connerly, a former California regent who took his campaign to ban racial preferences to eight states, said he had no plans to work toward referendums in more states, and would be surprised if any other organization decided to spend significant resources to do so.

“I think where this is going to go is more universities trying to craft policies that rely on socioeconomic factors, and they won’t get much of a quarrel as long as they don’t make those policies smell like race-based factors,” Mr. Connerly said.

And Jennifer Gratz, a plaintiff in one of the cases against the University of Michigan and founder of the XIV Foundation, said that while she would support efforts for more bans, she was now interested in moving beyond such a fight.

“At this point, I think there needs to be a process to start to talk with people who believe they need race preferences to succeed, and tell them why in this day and age, no one needs a government preference based on their skin color,” she said.

Many who have backed the continued use of race in admissions criteria say the growing focus on social and economic factors is a matter of practical politics.

“The reason we’re moving to income-based affirmative action is that it’s politically viable, and allows a coalition we haven’t seen since Bobby Kennedy, of working-class whites and minorities,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “But it won’t solve the problem, since our system of higher education now faithfully reproduces race and class differences across generations.”

Since 1994, he said, higher education has become increasingly two tiered, with 85 percent of white students going to the top 500 four-year colleges, and 75 percent of black and Latino students going to open-admissions schools. “In the end, you can’t avoid dealing with race,” he said.

Kati Haycock, president of the liberal Education Trust, said she could not deny that most people who follow the Supreme Court believe the clock is running out on race-based admissions policies.

“I just keep wishing that the people who spend so much time trying to end racial preferences in higher ed would work to end the racial differences in the education we provide K-12, which is why we need the racial preferences,” she said.