Beware of the Fake Players Association
What College Football Players Have to Learn from the Creation of the MLBPA
This is a free online newsletter for Jason Stahl, Executive Director of the College Football Players Association (CFBPA). If you are a member of the general public who would like to financially support our efforts at the CFBPA you can do that here. If you are a past, present or future college football player, I ask that you consider becoming a member of the CFBPA. For a succinct YouTube primer on the CFBPA, click here.
College football is headed for massive change and even those in charge seem to have accepted it. New NCAA president Charlie Baker; Alabama football head coach Nick Saban; and Tom McMillen, head of an Athletic Directors lobbying group, all seem to realize a more professionalized future for Power Five football is on the horizon.
Given this recognition, now is absolutely the time for college football players to establish their own independent players association to counterbalance the elite decision-makers within the sport. This is what we’re building at the CFBPA and so if you’re a current player, and you agree with our Platform for Change, I urge you to become a member today (it’s free).
Building an independent, democratic CFBPA is particularly necessary in a sport like college football where those in charge are used to having a paternalistic mindset towards players. Under such a mindset, college football players are “kids” who should be dictated to rather than negotiated with as equals.
This paternalistic mindset is entrenched among the elite decision-makers of the sport. As such, they will likely fight tooth and nail to avoid negotiating with a real, independent players association like the CFBPA. Instead, players need to be on guard for those in charge engaging in pretend negotiations with a fake players association. Under such a scenario, these elite decision-makers would likely use existing Student-Athlete Advisory Committees (SAAC), which are under NCAA control, to say that they are negotiating with the players when nothing could be further from the truth.
The history of the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) offers an example of just such a dynamic. This history shows college football players exactly why they need an independent players association like the CFBPA as opposed to a fake players association controlled by management.
In 1966, the MLBPA was largely a powerless guild. Despite having been in place for decades, it was a toothless entity literally controlled by the team owners. Baseball owners provided operating funds for the guild and chose the person who led it. Both of these things were illegal under labor law, but by this point, courts allowed baseball to operate outside antitrust, labor and employment law.
This history is recounted in the autobiography of the main person who helped chart a new direction for the players: Marvin Miller, who became the Executive Director of the MLBPA in 1966. Miller immediately moved to end the PA’s dependence on management. Additionally, when organizing the players, Miller immediately saw that “no one had ever encouraged [them] to think independently or critically about their situation.” So, Miller did encourage them. And when he did, players realized that the power base provided by an independent players association was what would yield real change in their workplace.
An independent players association like the kind Miller built at the MLBPA is exactly what is needed for college football players today and it is exactly what we are building at the CFBPA. Players should skip the dependent players association model that the MLBPA adopted before Miller’s arrival and work now, through the CFBPA, on building their own independence. Today’s MLBPA—where the players have real power in their workplace—shows what is achievable for college football players.
Of course, the powers that be in college football are likely to hold fast to their paternalism. At the CFBPA, we saw this in action as we attempted to start our first independent CFBPA chapter at Penn State back in July 2022. In this case, Kevin Warren, then commissioner of the Big Ten conference, derailed our efforts through the creation of a Big Ten SAAC committee for football players to sit on. That committee ended up being the ultimate fake players association. To the best of my knowledge it never met and likely never will now that Kevin Warren has moved on to a new job as president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.
Players need to realize through examples like this that the elite stakeholders of college football do not have your best interests at heart. Instead, a real, democratic and independent players association is what is needed for your true empowerment. That is what we’re building at the CFBPA. Become a member today if you want to take part in this effort. For current players, it is free to join, so let’s start building today.