Reviewing the Tape
What We Learned from the First CFBPA Action (Part 1 of 3)
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. We have just lowered the dues for our High School Members and our Current Player Members to $1 per year. Donors from the general public and new Alumni College Football Player Members helped to make this possible.
As regular readers of this newsletter know, the CFBPA just took its first major action at Penn State University. We attempted to organize new members at Penn State in order to come to the table and bargain with Big Ten administrators around a group of three demands. For newer readers who are unfamiliar, I recommend reading this Sports Illustrated article on the subject as it is the most exhaustive. This story at CBS Sports also is good as it covers the plan of action that we came up with while we were organizing players at Penn State over the course of a week.
Reading these stories, you’ll see that the plan we came up while at Penn State did not come to fruition. However, as in sports, we need to “review the tape” in order to learn from what we did. Specifically, we need to learn where we need to improve and where we were successful. So, in this spirit, today I’m beginning a series of three newsletters entitled “Reviewing the Tape.” Each of the three will have one lesson learned and one area of success from the Penn State campaign. Here we go with our first pairing:
Lesson #1: When developing a future action, we are going to make sure that we have a leadership team in place. As I wrote in my last newsletter, with our first campaign we were constrained by having one player leader. When I came out to campus, we were supposed to have a second player leader but he ended up being out of town. I then tried to develop a leadership team while on campus but it was tough. Even in the dead of summer, players’ schedules were packed. Guys were willing to get involved in different ways, including becoming official CFBPA members, but none were available to do media except our sole leader on the team. This meant that once that leader went in a different direction, we were left with no strong leadership structure in place. Thus, in the future, I think a five-man leadership group — with two doing media — will be appropriate. Additionally, as I discussed in my last newsletter, we need to make sure that if a star player is on board that he’s doing it for the right reasons.
Success #1: We changed the narrative. Before we developed our campaign, no one was discussing one of our key demands: that the Big Ten should share some of its gargantuan coming media rights deal with the players who generate that wealth. Now they are. Whether it is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and a University of Michigan Regent openly discussing the idea, or whether it is Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren seemingly recognizing the inevitability of revenue sharing and unionization, we have definitely moved people in our direction on this question.
Likewise, we have moved the powers that be on the question of player health. The Sports Illustrated article above contains this quote: “One Big Ten source says the two medical-related planks in the CFBPA’s list of demands might be in the league’s best interest to figure out how to adopt so it can become a beacon for players and a leader that could force other conferences to follow suit.” This is good to hear even if it wouldn’t be possible to implement our medical related planks without our involvement. As I told Commissioner Warren in my call with him, the planks are meaningless without enforcement by a CFBPA full-time employee rep and advocate on the ground—one at every Big Ten school. We’re still willing to work with Commissioner Warren—and anyone else throughout college football—on making this vision a reality.
Finally, we believe that we changed the narrative on the question of player representation in negotiating the conditions of their workplace. Before our campaign, Big Ten administrators weren’t interested in giving college athletes a real voice in the decision-making within their workplace. How do I know this? Because at the same time as our Penn State action, this lengthy profile of Commissioner Warren’s time at the head of the Big Ten was published. In it, I think the concerns of Commissioner Warren in his first two and a half years on the job can be boiled down to three things: generating new revenue for Big Ten schools; addressing intra-employee conflict within Big Ten administrative offices; and security of Big Ten physical facilities and technology. College athletes themselves rarely make an appearance in the piece.
So, we’re happy that the Big Ten has, in the wake of our action, established something called the “Student-Athlete Advisory and Advocacy Committee.” As our Vice President Maddie Salamone pointed out on Twitter, this appears to be a very old committee that was revived, but I hope it can do good work. However, the reality is that these types of committees — whether at the NCAA, conference, or member institutional level — have not been effective in the past at implementing meaningful reform.
Instead, meaningful reform nearly always comes from independent player organizing. For instance, in the wake of Northwestern football players attempting to unionize in 2014-15, various reforms were made even though the players were unsuccessful in their efforts. Full cost of attendance and four-year scholarships became the norm as the powers that be in college athletics attempted to put down the emerging labor movement.
That is exactly what is happening now—the Big Ten has begun making pro-player noises because of what we’re doing at the CFBPA. But, unlike 2014-15, we’re not going anywhere. The CFBPA is here to stay and this was the first round of many to come. We’re creating a sustainable institution for the long-haul—one which will permanently alter the balance of power in college football and give college football players past, present and future the collective voice they need over the conditions of their workplace.