Charting the Path Ahead

Creating the College Football Players Association

The following newsletter is the fourth in a series of four newsletters which, taken together, attempt to define my vision for the College Football Players Association (CFBPA). The first, on NIL rights, can be read here. The second, on the Alston Supreme Court case before it was decided, can be read here. The third, on the differences between a players association and a union, can be read here. These four “vision newsletters” are meant to be read together along with the newsletter from this past February announcing my candidacy to lead the CFBPA.

Monday, June 21 brought undeniably good news for college athletes everywhere as the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the NCAA in the case NCAA vs. Alston. As I predicted in May, and as Michael McCann details in his fantastic write-up of the decision in Sportico, the decision was narrow in its scope but forceful in its overall impact, particularly given that it was unanimous. Written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the majority opinion stated that NCAA member schools can no longer limit how much college athletes are compensated for academic-related costs including things like computers, study abroad trips and internships. The NCAA will now have to modify or abolish rules they have related to these expenses and member schools will now be able to choose whether or not they want to pay for such expenses.

In the end analysis, however, the real force of the decision is primarily in its overall optics. The NCAA has taken a loss and is on their heels in the face of increasingly mobilized opposition. Adding to this forcefulness is the concurring opinion from Justice Brett Kavanaugh who, as McCann writes, “appears to hope that NCAA amateurism is sacked altogether.” Indeed, Kavanaugh’s concurrence seems like it was written by some of the NCAA’s most forceful critics in the media. In the end, both judicial opinions are bad for the NCAA and will undoubtedly lead to more lawsuits in the future as antitrust attorneys across the United States will correctly smell blood in the water.

However, despite all of this good news, the NCAA sees the narrowness of the majority ruling as good news for them. After the rulings, their general counsel correctly noted that only Justice Kavanaugh signed onto the more forceful critique of the NCAA and its powers. The rest of the justices only signed the narrower ruling. So, while this is surely a victory for the college sports reform movement, we should definitely not see it as some sort of “nail in the coffin.” In the end analysis, I find myself agreeing with economist Ted Tatos who argued on Twitter that “this is a small victory that portends well for college athlete rights, but declaring victory prematurely would constitute a major error. A lot of work remains to ensure athletes receive equitable treatment.”

Tatos is undoubtedly correct. And while that work will inevitably continue to be done by lawyers, legislators, academics and nonprofits, we need to make sure that we use this summer to expand the nature of the movement that is engaged in reforming college athletics. In particular, and as I have argued many times at this newsletter in the past, we need to work to expand outward from those in elite spheres to college athletes themselves. If we truly are to make the summer of 2021 the summer that we begin to construct a new order within college sports, we need to start building a base for our movement—one which mobilizes college athletes themselves.

A perfect starting point to that movement is college football players. They are politically engaged; there are more of them by far than in any other college sport; they have the most to gain given that their sport is by far the most dangerous; and they are the primary linchpin of nearly every athletic department in the country. Organizing college football players into the College Football Players Association (CFBPA) could then serve as a model for other college sports to follow in forming their own players associations. For these reasons, it is time for college football players to seize the moment and form the CFBPA.

I’ve written extensively about this subject over the past year including why I think I’m the person uniquely situated to lead such an organization. Since I announced my candidacy to lead the CFBPA this past February, and since players announced last summer their desire to have a players association, no other individual or group has risen to the challenge of creating one. As such, today I am moving ahead to launch the College Football Players Association and will spend the rest of the summer, along with players and other supporters, building the initial foundation of the organization.

The organization’s purpose will be to advocate for the rights of college football players nationwide and be dedicated to their health, safety and welfare. Today, I want to outline three phases of development of the new organization. Phase One is short-term and can begin immediately this summer. Phase Two is medium-term and will happen over the next year or two. Phase Three is long-term and will occur over the next 3-5 years. Here is an outline of the three phases:

  • Phase One: Membership Base Building; Research, Education and Advocacy

Initially, we will begin building a membership base for a CFBPA. The organization will be classified as an association and not a union. I explained why in a previous newsletter for those who are interested. Any current college football player, who is playing in any football program in the United States, will be eligible to join as a member. Membership dues for active college football players will be small—likely in the range of $20 per year. This will be finalized once I form my first advisory board for the CFBPA.

As we build the membership base of the CFBPA, we’ll be raising financial support from sympathetic individuals and institutions through a separate fundraising arm of the organization. We will then use this money to continue to grow the organization while at the same time beginning extensive projects in research, education and advocacy. In particular, we will begin an extensive research program into every college football program in the country. The program will be quantitative and qualitative in nature and will seek to shed light on how programs are measuring up when it comes to the issues of health, safety and welfare, among others.

In these ways, as we grow, my hope is that we can begin to show our membership results even as we gather strength towards Phase Two.

  • Phase Two: Local Chapter Development

As we build our membership base, this will make it easier to gauge the places in which the organization is strongest. Once enough time passes, we will be able to then determine which football program will house the first association chapter of the CFBPA. This chapter will serve as a case study and role model for chapters that follow.

The chapter will have one full-time paid representative hired by the national organization. The rep will work with and advocate for players within that chapter. First and foremost, the rep will make sure that all currently existing NCAA rules and regulations are actually being followed within that program. As we saw at recent congressional hearings on the subject, college athletes highlighted the ways in which there is very little enforcement of these rules and regulations within programs across the country. The NCAA doesn’t enforce and neither do colleges and universities. So, CFBPA reps would be the new enforcement mechanism for existing rules and regulations.

Thus, within local chapters, “football-related activities” would actually be capped at 20 hours in season and 8 hours out of season as they are supposed to be but rarely are. Football players could use this free time as they chose. Hopefully, they would be more integrated into campus life than they are now—including campus academic life in a way that would allow them to explore a wide variety of college majors as opposed to being tracked into one. Health and safety protocols for practices would actually be enforced. Finally, players would have an advocate to turn to for advice and someone to take into tough conversations that the player might need to have with his university or coach.

After establishing the first association chapter, we’d use it as a model for others. We’d build the CFBPA into a national force—a wall that would be built brick-by-brick through each additional local chapter. This would then allow us to move to Phase Three.

  • Phase Three: A National Presence for Long-Term Fights

With numerous local chapters in place, the CFBPA would have a strong national presence to make sure that college football players are involved and active in the decisions being made in their names and in their sport. Whether it is on the issue of future classification as employees, unionization, and pay-for-play; expanding the college football playoffs; or future health and safety guidelines, a CFBPA would finally give college football players the voice they need to advocate on their behalf in these national discussions.

Additionally, through national conventions and other modes of dialogue, a CFBPA would give players the ability to exchange information about their programs in-person. The national organization could petition congress and engage in group licensing. Finally, by organizing ourselves through a 501(c)4 nonprofit, we still preserve the option to engage in anti-trust and other legal action against the NCAA. In the long-term a CFBPA legal department would do just that.

I hope this vision is clear and that everyone reading considers it the same realistic possibility that I do. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing me at jmstahl at cfbpa dot org or contacting me on Twitter. I’ll be using the next several weeks to found the CFBPA and will be writing again after that with information on how everyone, especially college football players, can get involved.