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Northwestern Ruling Impacts TCU And Baylor

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The National Labor Relations Board ruling granting Northwestern athletes employee status and giving them the right to organize may mean players at Big 12 private schools (like Baylor QB Bryce Petty) may have the right to organize, too. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
The National Labor Relations Board ruling granting Northwestern athletes employee status and giving them the right to organize may mean players at Big 12 private schools (like Baylor QB Bryce Petty) may have the right to organize, too. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

When Chicago National Labor Relations Board regional director Peter Sung Ohr made his March 26 ruling granting the Northwestern Wildcats employee status, thus giving them the right to collective bargaining, it's hard to imagine Ohr wasn't aware of the precedent he was setting for collegiate athletics.

And while that ruling is just one step towards debunking the NCAA's foundational concept of amateurism and all the moral bankruptcy it encompasses, everyone who ever has had a vested interest in college sports is watching intently to see what happens next, including Big 12 private schools like the Baylor Bears and the TCU Horned Frogs.

The NLRB's national director will hear Northwesterns appeal, and in the coming months the NCAA, Northwestern, Big Ten and anybody else who stands to benefit from the continued oppression of student-athletes (a term wailingly used to justify the simple fact that the athletes that make college sports a multi-billion dollar industry aren't getting a remotely proportionate slice of the pie) will do their damnedest to complicate the logic behind the initial ruling. But, if upheld, athletes at private schools across the country will have the legal precedent to organize.

For TCU and Baylor, that means tenuous negotiations and even further blurring of the line between academics and athletics, but eventually it could put these two institutions (and other private schools in major conferences) on the forefront of modern college athletics. That's because the NLRB ruling only applies to private institutions, while a public school athlete's right to organize is contingent on their state's labor laws.

In the Big 12, TCU and Baylor are the only two private schools in the conference. The other eight member institutions are public universities beyond the reach of the NLRB ruling.

That means, provided that the NLRB ruling is upheld and the athletes at TCU and Baylor choose to unionize and negotiate a better financial arrangement, an elite athlete in a state like Texas or Oklahoma could choose the added financial incentive of playing at a unionized school, whereas they may have traditionally been interested in a program like the Longhorns or Cowboys.

That would give the TCUs and Baylors of the world an obvious advantage on the recruiting trail and would make major private institutions dominant forces in collegiate athletics. However, more importantly, it would force public schools to reevaluate their position on unionization as well.

Schools in "Right to Work" states likely would be quick to support organization in order to avoid falling off the pace. States that don't allow unionization risk seeing their beloved public institutions hemorrhaging athletic revenue, specifically in football.

Of course, with unionized "student-athletes" jeopardizing the sanctity of their core philosophy (amateurism), the NCAA won't go down without a fight.

President Mark Emmert has made it clear that they'll fight the ruling. He even matter-of-factly stated that he expects the appeals process to play out all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

However, the initial ruling by Ohr is one critical step towards the dissolution of the NCAA in its entirety.

Whether or not athletes decide to unionize or if schools find a way to reach a financial arrangement that gives the kids a fair shake is indeterminable. The expanse between what college sports is and what we should all hope they can eventually be is wide, but the fact remains that if the NLRB ruling is upheld at the national level and we see athletes at schools like Northwestern, TCU, Baylor, Stanford or Duke allowed to unionize, we may finally be on the precipice of real change in collegiate athletics.

For a school like Baylor, that could mean continued growth as a football program and a lengthy stay atop the Big 12. For TCU, it means a chance to find its footing in a league that has proven difficult for it.

Most importantly, it means that athletes finally will be getting a piece of the massive revenues they're responsible for generating. It means equality and it means that we've finally recognized that it's time to economically incentivize the games or lose them entirely.