Written by: Joseph Yun
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for Blitzalytics about the ramifications of a potential separation by Power 5 from the NCAA. In that article, I also mentioned the possibility of players unionizing to negotiate a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement in legal parlance) like contract and that the era of increased player empowerment is here. After the article was published, reports from Sports Illustrated and other national outlets state that the Power 5 are increasingly disillusioned with the NCAA. Well, the time of athletes realizing the power that they wield is here.
Yesterday via the athlete-driven The Players Tribune, several notable Pac-12 athletes (including top tier NFL caliber prospects) published an op-ed detailing their fervent desires. However, they are not the first of its kind as the Pac-12 folks took the baton from the University of Texas athletes calling for systemic change at the school. At least one Longhorns player has elected to sit out the season for this reason as well. No longer are players going to sit idly by while the siren calls for reform are being blared across the country. There have been player-led movements all over the college football landscape at such places as Oregon, Clemson, and Florida State to name a few. In fact, Iowa has had to replace a strength coach due to allegations of mistreatment in the past. Prominent voices such as Oregon DB Jevon Holland and others have used the hashtag #WeAreUnited to lend their support for the cause. On the coaching side of the ledger, there are allegations that Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich is steadfast against supporting the cause while Oregon’s head coach Mario Cristobal has garnered praise for his stance.
As to the demands of the Pac-12 athletes, here’s a list of them courtesy of the TPT article.
I. Health and Safety Protections
1. Allow the option not to play during the pandemic without losing athletics eligibility or spot on our team’s roster.
2. Prohibit/void COVID-19 agreements that waive liability.
Mandatory Safety Standards, Including COVID-19 Measures
1. Player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party selected by players to address COVID-19, as well as serious injury, abuse, and death.
II. Protect All Sports
Preserve All Existing Sports by Eliminating Excessive Expenditures
1. Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay.
2. End performance/academic bonuses.
3. End lavish facility expenditures and use some endowment funds to preserve all sports.*
*As an example, Stanford University should reinstate all sports discontinued by tapping into their $27.7 billion endowments.
III. End Racial Injustice in College Sports and Society
1. Form a permanent civic-engagement task force made up of our leaders, experts of our choice, and university and conference administrators to address outstanding issues such as racial injustice in college sports and in society.
2. In partnership with the Pac-12, 2% of conference revenue would be directed by players to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.
3. Form an annual Pac-12 Black College Athlete Summit with a guaranteed representation of at least three athletes of our choice from every school.
IV. Economic Freedom and Equity
Guaranteed Medical Expense Coverage
1. Medical insurance selected by players for sports-related medical conditions, including COVID- 19 illness, to cover six years after college athletics eligibility ends.
Name, Image, and Likeness Rights & Representation
1. The freedom to secure representation, receive basic necessities from any third party and earn money for use of our name, image, and likeness rights.
Fair Market Pay, Rights, & Freedoms
1. Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports.
2. Six-year athletic scholarships to foster undergraduate and graduate degree completion.
3. Elimination of all policies and practices restricting or deterring our freedom of speech, our ability to fully participate in charitable work, and our freedom to participate in campus activities outside of mandatory athletics participation.
4. The ability of players of all sports to transfer one time without punishment, and additionally in cases of abuse or serious negligence.
5. Ability to complete eligibility after participating in a pro draft if the player goes undrafted and foregoes professional participation within seven days of the draft.
6. Due process rights
These demands are fairly reasonable and a good number of these are in the final stages of being discussed and worked into reality. Particularly, the COVID opt-out aspects and scholarship guarantees for those who elect to opt-out. Normally, college football operates its scholarships on a year to year basis but there are some conferences that offer four-year rides. Also, the medical portions are being worked on as programs such as LSU and Florida State have introduced face shield attachments to helmets. The NIL portion is being worked by the federal and state governments since the NCAA absolutely refuses to budge nor enact radical changes to keep itself relevant. The organization and its acolytes are heavily outdated and quite frankly, useless as a rotary phone in this modern world.
Lurking in the background is the social justice and racial equality movements that have spread like wildfire across the nation. It has touched the world of college football as the vast majority of its athletes are of African American descent. These issues should’ve been resolved long ago BEFORE it got to this generation of athletes. No 18 - 22-year-old kid should have to bear the burden of leading an entire country out of its sordid past with race relations. College should be full of growing as a person and fun while young. On the other hand, no previous generation is better equipped to do so as this one with the advent of social media and other platforms to spread the good word.
While financial rewards would be great to have for the athletes, 50% of the total revenue is most likely a nonstarter with officials.
It’s great that the athletes are finally realizing the potential of the immense power that they hold. Without them, the quality of the product on the field is severely damaged. The time is nigh for the Power 5 to unify and destroy what little vestige of NCAA credibility remains by departing. This way, players and administrators alike can finally realize that the current unpaid athlete system is broken and impossibly irrevocable (it has been since the dawn of college athletics). College football is a multibillion-dollar industry and it’s long past due time for the players to get paid for their services like their professional brethren. Detractors of such a payment system will state that scholarships are enough. No, it isn’t. You and I all know what it is in terms of the sport we all love. College football pays the bills for universities like it or not, including coaching staff salaries on top of administrative personnel. No longer should the players have to foot the whole bill without being properly compensated for it.
If you’re one of these folks who think, but what about their draft stock if athletes sit out a whole year? Trust me, NFL teams don’t care as much as you think they do.
Can the Pac-12 athletes be the change agent?
Yes. I believe that it can be. Someone has to be first to start the fire that others provided the kindling for. With the era of social media long upon us, the word can spread quickly. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence even provided a tweet of support so you know other athletes are watching. I believe in the philosophy of divide and conquer i.e. the opponent (the NCAA and its supporters) can focus on one area but can’t focus its energy on all fronts at once. The Art of War states that: “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put a division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected .”
In an era of dramatically increased athlete empowerment, the chance to make waves within the system and cause change is the ripest it has been in decades. These athletes need to take control of the narrative and use it for the betterment of themselves and future generations. No longer as a society can we sit idly by and subtly lend credence to an obsolete, negligent and unjust system. We must support these athletes in their efforts to make better lives for themselves and families stronger than ever before. I leave you with a quote from a pair of Chinese philosophers Mencius and Confucius to interpret this possible forthcoming sea change.
“Let not a man do what his sense of right bids him not to do, nor desire what it forbids him to desire. This is sufficient. The skillful artist will not alter his measures for the sake of a stupid workman.” - Mencius
“The superior man is distressed by the limitations of his ability; he is not distressed by the fact that men do not recognize the ability that he has” - Confucius.
Viva la revolución!