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Ohio State AD Gene Smith says O'Bannon, Northwestern union efforts mishandled

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Gene Smith spoke to CBS Sports before today's landmark ruling in Northwestern's regional NLRB hearings came to pass. See his thoughts on the O'Bannon case, Kain Colter and co., and more.

Probably not talking unions.
Probably not talking unions.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Before a landmark day that saw a group of Northwestern student athletes win the first battle in their campaign to unionize, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith spoke to CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler about a variety of topics ranging from the NCAA's ongoing legal battle in the Ed O'Bannon case to the Northwestern union movement itself.

"Had new governance structure been in place four years ago, I don't think these lawsuits would have emerged because we would have addressed a lot of these concerns," Smith told Fowler in a previous conversation.

While Smith spoke of the need to involve students in the governance of college athletics on an increased basis, he didn't exactly mince words when it came to the hearing process which culminated in Colter and company winning their regional National Labor Relations Board hearing.

"There's one side of me that applauds Colter because you teach our young people to be leaders," Smith said. "There's another side of me that felt bad for him because I still think the union people took advantage of him. He got in a spot where he had to misrepresent what was happening at Northwestern, that's why his teammates pulled away from it. I felt bad for him...I'm not so sure he ever lied, but he was on the edge of what the truth was."

Calling that sort of language loaded would be generous, to say the least.

It's clear that Smith and company have their own interests to protect, but at the same time, with few expecting the Northwestern group (which was deemed a suspect test case by a number of legal professionals before hand) to be successful in even their first steps as they ultimately were, the NCAA's power brokers now find themselves on the defensive with radical reform and a complete sea change of the college athletic landscape potential at the end of the tunnel.

The next steps involve Northwestern appealing to the NLRB in Washington D.C. and should they prove successful there, at minimum, a Federal Court Appeals and possibly even the United State Supreme Court. Whether Kain Colter and company prove able to continue advancing a platform which whether they win in the court room or not will result in broad sweeping changes, college athletics is just about certain to be governed in an entirely different capacity in the next half decade to a decade either way.