Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

Collective souls

Andy Staples ($$) tossed out a possibility I hadn’t considered before.

… One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard came from an athletic director who suggested athletes become employees of conferences, which are private entities and which would consolidate the jurisdiction for each collective bargaining agreement to a single state. That would allow leagues to negotiate with the athletes or their representatives and come to a compromise that both groups consider fair. They also could negotiate new rules to control player movement or anything else they’d like to address.

The more I think about it, that actually could work.  Running it through the conferences avoids any Sherman Act problems and allows individual schools to maintain their “we’re not employers!” fig leaf.  It also keeps the NCAA out of the equation, which may be the biggest plus of all.

I’d love to know who that AD is, because that’s a pretty sharp suggestion.



Filed under Look For The Union Label

Just don’t call ’em a union.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s… a collective group coming together.

Big Ten football players have had conversations with league commissioner Kevin Warren this week about giving athletes a bigger voice in the future and about improving a variety of benefits for players. Warren also spoke with the leader of a nascent players’ association about the possibility of having an independent group represent the players in conversations with the league.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said the conversations with Warren have been a positive, collaborative start to giving players a seat at the table in future decisions with the league. He said he and the other players he has spoken with have no intention of creating a union or entering a contentious negotiation with the league at this point.

Sure, Sean.  “At this point” sounds like it might be doing some heavy lifting there, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt.

Stahl spoke to Warren earlier this week about a trio of initial topics the CFBPA wants to negotiate with the Big Ten:

• A representative on each campus who can advocate for players during medical situations or other disputes. The representative would be hired by the CFBPA and serve an on-site role similar to the player representatives in professional sports unions.
• Funds from the conference to purchase medical insurance policies for former players that would cover the treatment of injuries from their college football careers.
• A to-be-determined percentage of media rights revenue for players.

A representative from the Big Ten confirmed that Warren spoke to Stahl but said to characterize their conversation as the beginning of any type of collective bargaining discussion is not accurate.

Sure, sure.  Just a couple of dudes casually shooting the breeze with each other.

Clifford said he wasn’t yet ready to have a conversation about what players would do if the Big Ten is unwilling to make significant changes, because so far their conversations have been positive.

“We want to have a conversation we’ve never had before,” Clifford said. “Those three things are just the base of what we’d like to do. In reality, we think there is more that could happen. I could see a lot of changes being made moving forward. Realistically, the work force should have a voice at this point.”

“The work force”.  Meet the new “student-athlete” euphemism.

Stahl said if the Big Ten does not make significant progress on doing more for players, he believes the organization’s next step is to register as a 501(c)(5) labor organization and potentially begin the process of becoming a union.

There it is!


Filed under Big Ten Football, Look For The Union Label

Leave Mark alone!

Poor Mr. Emmert.  After getting his ass kicked in court so many times, the message has finally sunk in that the NCAA’s amateurism stance is indefensible in this day and age.  He’s finally sounded the retreat and directed the organization to send the message to schools that when it comes to fending for themselves in the marketplace, they’re on their own.

You’d think that would be enough, but the jackals won’t stop picking over the NCAA’s carcass.

On Tuesday, the National College Players Association filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the NCAA office, the Pac-12 Conference and California schools USC and UCLA as single and joint employers of FBS football players and Division I men’s and women’s basketball players. The goal is to affirm employee status for D-I basketball players and FBS football players.

It is the latest chapter of an athlete rights movement that has generated sweeping changes to archaic NCAA policies governing athlete compensation and transfer policies. Buoyed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the NCAA v. Alston antitrust lawsuit in June, the country’s sentiment has started to swing in the favor of players over those in charge—coaches, school administrators and conference officials.

In fact, the NCPA’s stroke comes only after new NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo encouraged such a move. In a September memo, she deemed college athletes employees under the National Labor Relations Act, a thundering message from the agency’s lead lawyer that invited athletes and athlete advocates to bring forth petitions to unionize. The NLRB is the independent agency that enforces U.S. labor law as it relates to collective bargaining.

Before you dismiss this as being a threat limited to private schools, consider that the lawyers have been at work here.

Public sentiment and the compensation that athletes can now receive from their schools have both changed significantly since Northwestern’s unionization attempt. Huma says this new complaint is also different because Abruzzo is willing to view the NCAA and conferences (not just individual schools) as potential employers. Since the NLRB doesn’t have jurisdiction over government-run entities such as public universities, the ability to consider athletes as employees of the NCAA allows for the first time the possibility that players at all public and private schools could be considered employees.

In other words, the wheels, they are turning.  The suits, as usual, are in denial.

In an interview with a Portland radio station last month, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff disagreed that college athletes should be employees.

“They are students first and athletes second. That is non-negotiable for me,” he said. “We get to a place where we talk about professional athletes and it blows up the whole model. Let’s take it to the natural conclusion. Talking about professional athletes, then we have a draft. You’re telling a kid where to go to college. If they are an employee, do I get the right to fire them?

The bravado, she is false.  Everything is negotiable, George.  Just look at the way amateurism has been defined and redefined over the past three decades.

The question the NCAA, the conferences and the schools should be asking themselves is straightforward.

“Every day the status quo seems to be more unsustainable,” Feldman says. “Some significant change is likely to happen in the near future. There is consensus: Athletes should be given more. The question: How do we do that while protecting the foundation of college sports?”

College football’s powers that be still have it within their control to shape what is to come.  The NLRB process is expected to take at least eighteen months, so there’s plenty of time to negotiate a resolution in both sides’ interests.  Do I think they’ll grasp that?  Given their track record, I’m not exactly holding my breath.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

“Student athletes sense their moment has arrived.”

Those of you looking at yesterday’s NLRB announcement and assuming that it’s all about the money may not be right, at least not to start with.  I have the feeling that if anyone takes this particular ball and starts running with it, it’ll be about working conditions.

Winter says athletes right now could begin organizing, by team or school or conference, to make demands about working conditions if their regional labor board approves unionization. They don’t like their meals on campus? They don’t like the way in which their program travels to games? They don’t like their coach’s practice schedule? Under the National Labor Relations Act, they would have the right to voice such complaints—even go on strike—while under protection of the law from their company, in this case the university.

There are also matters like insurance and post-college health care.  Or, to hit college football even harder, what if there’s an organized objection to playoff expansion?

None of this is about amateurism.  It’s about having more say so in how college athletes are asked to work or enhance the educational experience or whatever euphemism you’re comfortable using to describe what they do.  It won’t sit well with the control freaks who coach them, that’s for sure.


Filed under Look For The Union Label

Death of a catchphrase

Looks like the NLRB objects to some time-honored language:

Today, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum to all Field offices providing updated guidance regarding her position that certain Players at Academic Institutions (sometimes referred to as student athletes), are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and, as such, are afforded all statutory protections.

The memo further advises that, where appropriate, she will allege that misclassifying such employees as mere “student-athletes” and leading them to believe that they are not entitled to the Act’s protection has a chilling effect on Section 7 activity and is an independent violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.

“Players at Academic Institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and subject to their control.  Thus, the broad language of Section 2(3) of the Act, the policies underlying the NLRA, Board law, and the common law fully support the conclusion that certain Players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment,” said General Counsel Abruzzo. “My intent in issuing this memo is to help educate the public, especially Players at Academic Institutions, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA, about the legal position that I will be taking regarding employee status and misclassification in appropriate cases.”

Recent developments bolster General Counsel Abruzzo’s  position, including: the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision in NCAA v. Alston, that recognized that college sports is a profit-making enterprise…

Sounds like we’re about to hear a lot less “student-athlete” going forward.  If you’re a college athlete, Alston is the gift that keeps on giving.  Kudos to Messrs. Emmert and Remy for standing up on principle!


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

No way out

By the way, there’s one more interesting tidbit from that Dennis Dodd piece I linked to in the previous post.

A group of coaches support unionization as a way to get through the NIL debate, according to Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. The AFCA the 130 FBS head coaches.

“If there is no cap, then how do you regulate this? Because the cap is the only you can regulate it,” Berry told CBS Sports. “That’s why a lot of our coaches are saying, ‘Let’s just let them unionize. Let’s take the NFL model and apply it to college ball. That’s the only way you’re going to have some type of kind of guidelines and controls.’

“Many of our coaches are beginning to believe the only way to get through this. I don’t see a way out. I’ve talked to a lot of lawyers and all that kind of stuff. I don’t see a way out of this until you all the sudden they’re employees and you start playing them and allow them to unionize.”

That’s the likely end game after the NCAA is faced with cleaning up the rubble from political and judicial reaction to the amateurism status quo.  The coaches are just getting there sooner because they’ve either got direct NFL experience or know plenty of their peers who do.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

Today, in elections have consequences

I bet schools didn’t see this one coming.

I wonder how many hints it’s going to take before the NCAA gets the message that hunkering down isn’t a working strategy any more.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, Political Wankery

Labor law, college football players and COVID

If you have a few minutes, spend them listening to this clip about the labor law environment college athletes find themselves operating within.

(h/t DawgStats)


Filed under Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label


Judging from the statement #WeAreUnited released after Larry Scott announced he nuked the 2020 Pac-12 football season, he’s in for a stressful winter.

Screenshot_2020-08-12 Laine Higgins ( lainehiggins17) Twitter

The financial demands have been jettisoned.  Left are health concerns, frustration over having those concerns dismissed and a number of shots at the lack of leadership coming from Scott and his office.  There’s also the promise/threat that they expect a voice in the shaping of whatever comes for 2021.

Like it or not, this is going to be a topic of interest between now and the start of next year, especially if the plug gets pulled on the sport nationally.  There will be a vacuum and you know what they say about vacuums.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, Pac-12 Football

A meaningful seat at the table

I’ve seen questions from some of you in the comments about the likelihood of a college players’ union.  As this article ($$) indicates, there are a lot of legal hurdles that would have to be overcome in order for that to become a reality.

A players’ association might be a different matter, though.  More on that in a sec.

The irony is that it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s in college athletics’ interest to have a negotiating partner.  As Andy Staples ($$) put it,

There is no mechanism to negotiate with the players who — whether schools want to admit it or not — make up most of the workforce in this multibillion-dollar endeavor.

Why could pro leagues — those with bubbles and those without — restart? Because they negotiated the terms of those restarts with their respective players’ associations. The players wouldn’t have come back without a mutually-agreed-upon plan.

The problem is, the idea of a players’ union is scarier to the NCAA and schools than a one-year business loss due to a sport shutdown is.  Would a players’ association, such as what #WeWantToPlay is advocating, be less threatening?  Maybe.

… it is possible for players to form a non-profit organization designed to look out for their interests. And though the people in charge of the schools, conferences and the NCAA wouldn’t be legally required to bargain with that group, it probably would be in their best interests to allow the players a greater voice in the governance of the sport. All the leagues have student-athlete advisory committees, but those athletes get little to no say in any important decisions.

It would be voluntary, so the schools would have some say over how things could be shaped.  But in the end, it still comes down to relinquishing a degree of control to college athletes, either just in the revenue producing sports, or overall.  I don’t sense that things are presently dire enough for the schools to make that leap, but ask me again in six months.  The way things are going, a lot could happen between now and then.


Filed under College Football, Look For The Union Label