The dawn of a National College Football Player's Association?

As the possibility of a cancelled season grows, college athletes find their voice

If you happened to spend Sunday on the couch watching Collin Morikawa win a major tournament at 23—or if you just spent the day Not Online—then you missed a day full of breaking news, rumors, sources, and player activism as the 2020 season hangs in the balance.

So let’s start with the big news above: The Big-10 might announce either the cancellation or long term delay of the fall 2020 season, as soon as this week:

Several sources have indicated to ESPN that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, are ready to pull the plug on its fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge if commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power 5 conferences -- the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- will fall in line with them.

This news, understandably, upset quite a few folks. Wild rumors were everywhere, like Big-10 programs that want to play joining the Big-12 for a season, or the imminent announcement of every P5 conference cancelling the season on Monday.

And some of the people most upset about a potential cancellation? Actual college football players. For a brief period of time, some prominent athletes expressed their dismay with the possibility of a lost season and began circulating their preference to play under the hashtag #WeWantToPlay.

Of course, college football players don’t JUST want to play - they want to play under safe circumstances, with college administrators taking their concerns are taken seriously. And so, college athletes got to work:

And before the day was over, this was the result:

You should take a quick second to scroll through Jake Curhan’s twitter feed just to get a quick sense of how many players from across the country that have indicated their support for this movement. And to be clear, this movement is towards the creation of a college football player union, advocating for issues important to that group.

Sunday may well go down as a legendary day labor solidarity, when a potential schism between athletes who really wanted to play and athletes who were willing to sit out if their demands weren’t met came together and united their movements towards their common goals.

Because it’s true: every single college football player really really wants to play college football. It seems obvious, but I’m sure there are plenty of people arguing the opposite in bad faith towards Pac-12 players who started the #WeAreUnited movement.

Does this shift make a season more likely? On one hand, the list of demands above are a moderation of the initial list put out by Pac-12 players. On the other hand, the almost certain creation of a College Football Players Association represents an existential threat to the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences. If the power brokers of revenue college sports have demonstrated nothing else, it’s that they will do anything any everything to maintain their stranglehold on college sports revenue. And if Larry Scott’s initial handling of the #WeAreUnited movement is any indication . . .

A player from the Pac-12 unity group told ESPN that during Thursday's call Scott referred to the group's Players Tribune article published Sunday, which outlined demands related to health and safety, racial injustices and economic issues, as a "PR stunt," and he thought Scott was dismissive of the group's motives. "Eighteen sets of ears heard him say that," the player said.

"Your response to our concerns 'If you feel unsafe, just opt out and go home' is not an acceptable answer and proves there are severe inconsistencies in the Pac-12's standards and its commitment to protecting college athletes under its watch," the players' letter said.

. . . well, let’s just say that I don’t have much faith that the NCAA and its member conferences will be willing to discuss in good faith most of the concerns a college football player’s association would have.

Because while the NCAA is hobbled by institutional inertia and poisoned by their reliance on the status quo, they’re not dumb. Well, not dumb about the consequences of this moment in time, at least. They know that a union demanding COVID testing today will help file lawsuits for players who get sick and experience major health complications next year, and demand name-and-likeness rights the year after that. And those kinds of potential demands sadly aren’t things that current college football leadership have the vision to navigate.

Like I said last week, the central tension remains: Maintaining the vague illusion of amateurism makes playing in a pandemic nearly impossible. Adding the threat of labor organization doubly so.

As a result, I’m equal parts pessimistic and inspired. Pessimistic about the chances of seeing college football in the next few months, but inspired by the actions of college football athletes, here in Berkeley and across the country.