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ASU Football: College Football Player Movements- What it Means for Unionization

Pac-12 athletes formed the #WeAreUnited movement, but where do they go from here to get their voices heard.
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Over the last few weeks, we have seen college football players come together to raise their voice to help navigate their needs during this pandemic. The #WeAreUnited movement was created by Pac-12 football players as a way to ask for specific demands that they in order need to feel safe and secure during the football season.

Some of those needs and reasons for the #WeAreUnited movement as posted by the Players Tribune are as follows: 

"To ensure future generations of college athletes will be treated fairly, #WeAreUnited.

Because NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically, and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes, #WeAreUnited

Because we are being asked to play college sports in a pandemic in a system without enforced health and safety standards, and without transparency about COVID cases on our teams, the risks to ourselves, our families, and our communities, #WeAreUnited

Because we must have adequate COVID testing to help protect our health, #WeAreUnited

Because we should not be stuck with sports-related medical expenses, including COVID-19 related expenses, #WeAreUnited

Because any player who does not feel comfortable playing this season should be free to opt-out without losing their scholarship or any eligibility, #WeAreUnited

Because we should be included in equitably sharing the revenue our talents generate, especially in a pandemic, #WeAreUnited

Because eliminating lavish salaries and facility expenditures to preserve all sports must be prioritized, #WeAreUnited

Because the NCAA has failed us and we are prepared to ensure that our conference treats us fairly whether or not it continues its NCAA membership, #WeAreUnited

#WeAreUnited in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes. Due to COVID-19 and other serious concerns, we will opt-out of Pac-12 fall camp and game participation unless the following demands are guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons."

The #WeAreUnited movement then lead to the creation of the #WeWantToPlay movement once rumors started swirling that the college football season was going to be canceled. College football players took to Twitter to voice their reasons for why they wanted to play. The #WeWantToPlay movement lead by Clemson's quarterback Trevor Lawrence spread like wildfire throughout the Power 5 conferences.

These athletes using their voices to create change has started the conversation of whether or not they can or should create a union. There are two ways that college athletes could go about this. They could form a union, or they could form a college football players association. Both of these give the athletes a seat at the negotiating table, but one could be better than the other. Pepperdine Sports Law Professor and Athletic writer, Alicia Jessop weighed in on the idea, 

"The question is are they going to unionize under this law the National Labor Relations Act which is a more difficult burden or are they going to form something called a Trade Associate (college football players association) which doesn't have to meet that more difficult burden but still gives you some leverage at the negotiation table." 

We don't know yet what exact avenue they want to pursue, but according to Jessop creating the union would be the better option, 

"In my opinion, the best-case scenario is to form that union under the National Labor Relations Act. That's because that type of entity provides the most teeth under the law. It gives them the greatest benefits and greatest leverage in terms of what their representatives can do for them at the bargaining table with their Universities." 

If these football players can't figure out the legal hurdles to unionize they at least have a second option to fall back on with the Trade Association, 

"If they can't achieve the legal requirements necessary to formulate a union, a trade association is not a bad second option," Jessop told AllSunDevils. 

If they were successful in creating a union, this would not happen for a very long time. The process of creating a union is one that can take up to a year, if not longer. Back in 2014, Northwestern football players attempted to unionize and were unsuccessful, but the entire process for the Wildcat football program, according to Jessop, took over one year.

"We are not going to see college football players unionize in the next few days because it is a really lengthy process." 

2020 has been a weird year, so anything can happen, and the ball for college football players to start a union has begun to roll, it seems. 

Could we one day see college athletes being compensated? This ball, however, seems not to be rolling,  

" The litigation that's been filed and decided over the last decade has made it abundantly clear that courts are unwilling to allow college athletes to receive compensation from NCAA programs that are not tethered to education. 

Even though these athletes are asking for greater compensation, that's not going to happen. The schools are not going to enter into a revenue-sharing plan with them unless they boycott," Jessop explained. 

2020 has been weird enough so who is to say a boycott or a strike couldn't happen, but according to Jessop even if they did strike, the final decision would come down to the court and,  "(the court) really found in large part for the NCAA by maintaining their amateurism rule."