Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 23, 2014

To unionize or not to unionize. That?s what Northwestern players will vote on Friday in what could be a watershed event in the annals of college sports.

Many have speculated that the players will reject the union, based on some public comments by a few Wildcats and the fact Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has spoken out against it and has counseled players that a union isn?t in their best interest.

[ MORE: Trevor Siemian says union push was rushed, wrong ]

But we shall see. This all came front and center in March, when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that the Northwestern players were employees. The school subsequently appealed to the national NLRB board in Washington, D.C.

This Friday, the players will vote via secret ballot. But the vote won?t be made public until Northwestern's appeal process is finished. Even if the players vote down a union, they still will be considered employees if the NLRB upholds the initial ruling in Chicago.

What does the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) want? The big things are expanded medical coverage, graduation trust, better concussion technology and due process rights. Note what wasn?t included: pay for play. CAPA already has argued that the players were employees based on the fact they are paid in the form of a scholarship.

What if the union is given the thumbs down? The issue probably isn?t dead, as another school could make a move. But a rejection by Northwestern would mean the school would have to wait a year before trying to unionize again. And, again, a rejection by Northwestern players won?t overturn the ruling by the regional NLRB board that the players are employees. The precedent has been set, which could set in motion players at other schools trying to unionize.

If Northwestern players unionize, don?t expect major changes initially. The first alteration could be collective bargaining to improve medical coverage for players. But, beyond that, it?s difficult to really know what direction college sports could take in Northwestern does unionize.

But know this: Many feel other legal issues are bigger threats to college sports than this union fight. Namely, the Ed O?Bannon, Jeffrey Kessler and concussion lawsuits.

In short, the O?Bannon case is trying to make the claim that players deserve a share of the TV revenue that conferences and the NCAA generate annually.

Ten concussion lawsuits have been folded into one.

The goal of plaintiffs is to show the NCAA is a responsible party.

The Kessler case is an anti-trust lawsuit that argues that the NCAA and the major conferences have engaged in price-fixing by not permitting athletes to receive more than a scholarship in order to play.

Stay tuned. This all is just getting started.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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