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The Pac-12 moves one step closer to unionizing college football



The eyes of college football are on the Pac-12 and it’s not for their play on the field.

The headlines are sensational. The quotes are shocking. The reactions by pundits are completely over the top. But what exactly is happening in the college football world west of the Mississippi? In short, players are using their voices to bring college football decision-makers to the negotiating table ahead of the sport’s return. Will it work? Plenty of hurdles stand in the way.

A Players’ Union

“We are United.” The post by Pac-12 players on The Players’ Tribune sparked a ton of hot takes because of one demand on the lengthy list: Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports. It’s an admirable position to want college athletes to be treated like professionals (most of which split the revenue evenly with owners) yet it’s contradictory to another demand that asks for the Pac-12 to continue “protect all sports.” That could only be possible by using football to subsidize the smaller sports that often operate in the red.

The timeless debate over whether players should be paid obfuscates the problem at hand: college athletes do not have a players’ union to negotiate on their behalf.

Before every professional league returned to action from the coronavirus pandemic, players’ associations went to the negotiation table to ensure player safety. The only significant problem raised came down to a financial disagreement in Major League Baseball. Aside from that, there’s been relatively smooth sailing across the board.

In college athletics, there is no mechanism for players to use to negotiate how they should return to action. In a leaked conversation to The Washington Post, the SEC used an advisory board of sorts for players to raise their concerns to Greg Sankey and other league officials. There were legitimate questions asked without meaningful answers. Their voices were heard, but it’s yet to be determined if they fell upon deaf ears. Measures cannot be forced into practice without a union acting as a counterbalance.

“We are United” shared mostly reasonable demands acting as the Pac-12 players’ union. By organizing, many of the demands (mostly under the safety umbrella) will likely be met before football returns. As for the rest, much of it depends on the movement’s ability to organize and the schools’ willingness to work with them.

The Union’s Inspiration

Nine players from nine different schools were shared as media contacts to explain how they reached this point. The movement took off after one doctor told CBS Sports in an article published June 30 that he expected 3-7 deaths in college football if the sport returned as normal this fall.

“That’s not something that made me concerned for myself,” Cal offensive lineman Jake Curhan told The Athletic on Sunday. “I just know how frustrated I would have been had I seen any conference or team statement about it offering condolences, where they may very well have had access to these same studies and more. That was the moment when I said, OK, I needed to talk to some of my teammates.”

Turns out, that doctor admits he was wrong. Dr. Sheldon Jacobson is now optimistic about a return to college football this fall.

“I’m trying to find a reason to tell you we shouldn’t play football. I haven’t found it yet,” Jacobson told CBS Sports on Monday.

Union Blowback at Wazzu

The information behind the union’s inspiration may no longer be valid, yet it may have been the catalyst college football players needed to form a union. If it succeeds, the unionization may be a great thing for college athletics. Of course, there will be attrition along the way.

I’m no expert on union affairs, but I have watched The Office many times and we all know what happened in Pittsfield (SPOILER: the branch got shut down after threatening to unionize). The season two episode “Boys and Girls” depicts in a simplistic matter how employers feel about unions. It took less than 24 hours for a college football coach to reflect that sentiment.

Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods informed new head coach Nick Rolovich on Sunday that he would be opting out of the season for safety concerns. An athlete that suffers respiratory problems from sickle cell disease, Woods falls in the “at-risk” category for COVID-19.

In the phone call between the two parties, Rolovich understood Woods’ health concerns. “I got nothing wrong with that.” Then Rolo asked if Woods planned on joining the unity movement. After Woods responded affirmatively, Rolovich said, “That’s gonna be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff.”

What exactly is the issue? Rolovich did not make that clear. You can try to determine that by reading the entire transcript in the Dallas Morning News.

Arguments over semantics — Did Woods get kicked off the team when asked to clean out his locker? — will once again cloud the bigger picture. What’s clear is that all is fair in love and war. At the start of this war to unionize college athletics, there will be attrition. How much and from which side is yet to be determined, but a season without Pac-12 football is certainly a possibility. Unlike Northwestern’s failed attempt to unionize in 2015, if the Pac-12 players can gather enough support for their organization, timing is on their side to make meaningful change by altering the scales of power in the NCAA.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

27 Comments for The Pac-12 moves one step closer to unionizing college football

  1. StuckinLville
    1:11 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    PAC 12 football sucks anyway. So does basketball.

  2. UKFanSC
    1:25 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    When college players begin to organize as unions, and begin the practice of playing only when their “list of demands” are met, we are dangerously close to losing college sports. This is not a healthy development. It is pregnant with bad outcomes. What about the players who do not join the union? What happens to them? How does the coach retain authority over his players? How do fans feel about their players leveraging social issues in return for their scholarship? What happens to players in other conferences? Do they follow a similar path? Do the university administrators allow this? Does the NCAA play any role?
    Clearly what happens out West will have an impact on all of college football, and eventually college sports in general. 2020 continues to amaze me. The most disruptive year in most of our lifetimes. On all fronts.

    • satcheluk
      4:30 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      I never understood what the F is wrong with people who criticize others who are just standing up for themselves. Good for them! Whatever the result.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      10:43 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      Because this would end college sports, dude.

    • PensacolaCat
      9:09 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t want to be mean Sarcheluk, but that was the stupidest comment I’ve ever seen on this site, and that’s saying ALOT.

  3. lexslamman
    1:34 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    This will be the end of what’s left of college sports. They’re already basically farm teams for the pros in power conferences.

  4. Big Bry 1
    1:55 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    The elephant in the room, only briefly mentioned in this article, is the effect that paying college football players will have on non-revenue sports – and to the extent it has on Title IX. How can you pay male football players and not pay female soccer players? This will effectively end college sports as we know it.

    • Lip Man 1
      2:24 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      Big Bry – College sports effectively ended years ago. Time we admitted it and moved along with the times.

    • Big Bry 1
      3:39 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      I agree Lip Man. I was trying to make a point about how the same cartel that is advocating pay for football players will be bemoaning the lack of equal pay for soccer players without considering the monumental revenue gap.

  5. 4everUKBlue
    2:18 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    Hell with them, let those in favor of the union sit out and miss their entire college career and wait to be eligible for pro football, let’s see how they like that, the Pac 12 is already bad.

  6. catfan19
    2:19 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    There isn’t anyway to know if the doctor’s original estimate was wrong or not. The estimate changed, at least in part, because he adjusted his infection rate. The shortness of the article isn’t able to provide enough detail as to why specifically he decreased his infection rate. Clemson seems to be around the 30% mark; UK wasn’t even testing for active COVID for a while. And with different programs doing different things (i.e., what they are testing for, how they are housing players, etc), I think estimating an infection rate is rough to do. And so he decreased his death estimate to somewhere up to 2 players. Personally, if I’m an 18 year old kid, I’d want some say in what safety measures are put into place before I start playing again.

    In my mind, as long as there is the amount of money that there is in college men’s basketball and men’s football, college sports are questionable as to how long they may be around.

    • ClutchCargo
      2:49 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      There were very few things that scared me when I was 18, much less a virus with a low death rate. I really doubt that is their primary motive here.

  7. BigBlueFoo42777
    3:13 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    What a joke.

  8. jwhit80
    3:51 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    I say if they form a union and start getting paid, then make them pay for their scholarships. This non-sense is getting old already.

  9. jaws2
    4:10 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    Union? Unbelievable. Most of these kids have been pampered their entire lives and now they want a union. Paleeease! I’d tell them to pound salt and if they didn’t like it I’d revoke the scholarships. Let these people figure out how to prepare to be an NFL player on their own dime. Let’s see how that goes.
    If the entire team in every league quits eventually they’ll be filled with football players actually going to school.To well, go to school. Every team in America will be less athletic than it was prior but eventually if you like college football you’ll go to watch games. There certainly won’t be as much financial incentive for advertising, stadiums won’t be as large, probably fewer players participating, coaches won’t be overpaid, and perhaps not as much cheating. So what? We’ll still have a form of college football. I say good riddance guys.

    • danielscott52
      11:36 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

      Most of these kids are poor and it’s not like basketball where every country has a pro league they can play in. I applaud them for trying to get something . College football at any level will wreck your body

  10. T-Town Cat
    4:29 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    The”union” should realize they already have a signed contract in the form of a LOI. They get all kinds of free stuff in exchange for a season of play. If they don’t play, they are in breach of that contract and the university can revoke the scholarship. The “student” can then pay their own way or maybe use their high school diploma to find jobs.

  11. panicpat
    6:09 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    I agree 100% with jaws. If they don’t wanna play, good riddance. There are plenty of kids that would love the opportunities given.

  12. sharpshooter81
    6:30 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    There will never be a union for college athletes. That is a pipe dream for this small group of irrelevant football players. They can wish for this in one hand and shi$ in the other and see which one gets filled.

  13. light my fire
    7:05 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    All this social justice movement is doing Is destroying sports, businesses, families, and making America divided.
    Is it bad for minorities to want equality? No
    But to demand it and be given stuff without having to earn or work for it, or even the best qualified is not equality.

  14. Looother
    10:10 pm August 3, 2020 Permalink

    My sources say “Let them eat cake”…

  15. PensacolaCat
    9:11 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

    PAC10 has football??? Well I never…

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      3:49 pm August 4, 2020 Permalink

      I’m “I remember when it was PAC-8” old!

  16. Eddiemcwildcat
    9:40 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

    All those liberals lol. Are we really even surprised?

  17. tmcclan16
    11:24 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

    Didn’t realize they still play college sports in the Pac 12

  18. tmcclan16
    11:25 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

    So they want a six year scholarship when most of them will stay one year maybe two I would have to doubt the impact of most players make even at Kentucky

  19. Heavy C
    11:42 am August 4, 2020 Permalink

    Ironic choice of words from Satcheluk…Because everyone reading this is wonderful What The F is wrong with him.