PSU QB Sean Clifford, Big Ten Commissioner Discuss Improving Player Benefits

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 22, 2022

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 20: Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks to pass against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 20, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and other Big Ten football players spoke with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren this week about player benefits and representation, according to ESPN's Dan Murphy.

"It's been a collective group coming together," Clifford told Murphy. "Everyone wants players to have more of a voice."

Clifford discussed the group's goals with More Perfect Union, a media organization focused on American labor movements:

More Perfect Union @MorePerfectUS

EXCLUSIVE: College football players are unionizing, and the first chapter will be at Penn State.<br><br>The College Football Players Association is already in negotiations with the Big Ten.<br><br>Led by quarterback Sean Clifford, players want revenue sharing and better medical care. <a href="https://t.co/pwg3JGRZbc">pic.twitter.com/pwg3JGRZbc</a>

Warren also met with Jason Stahl, the founder and executive director of the College Football Players Association. Stahl raised the topics of player representation, medical insurance and media rights revenue, per Murphy.

Warren said in a statement to ESPN:

"The Big Ten Conference consistently communicates and collaborates with our student-athletes. We are in the process of formalizing a student-athlete advisory committee to seek input from our student-athletes about the changing landscape of college athletics. We continue to work with our member institutions to ensure our student-athletes have an outstanding and well-rounded experience, while promoting and safeguarding the mission of higher education, and prioritizing excellence and integrity in both academics and athletics."

The CFBPA formed last July under the guidance of Stahl, a former University of Minnesota professor. Any active college football player is eligible to join the association for $24 in annual dues.

"This is the next step," Stahl told Murphy last year. "If players don't get organized now, it's never going to happen. There's so much we can do right now."

A separate organization formed in 2001, the National College Players Association, is an advocacy group for all student-athletes.

Northwestern football players formed the College Athletes Players Association in 2014 in an attempt to unionize but were denied in 2015 by the National Labor Relations Board.

In September, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced the board was set to reverse its prior stance and would make college athletes eligible for unionization efforts, allowing them to "act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment."

Abruzzo stated student-athletes should be viewed as "statutory employees" under common law.

A players union could represent the latest transformational shift for NCAA sports, which generated $18.9 billion in revenue for member schools in 2019, per Felix Richter of Statista.

In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the NCAA could no longer use the shield of amateurism to prevent athletes from profiting off their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights while they competed in college sports.

Opendorse, a firm that tracks endorsements, found college athletes earned an estimated $917 million in compensation during the first year of the NIL era, and that number is expected to reach $1.14 billion during the 2022-23 academic year, per Yahoo Sports' Josh Schafer.

Stahl told Murphy when the CFBPA was formed that revenue sharing between the NCAA, schools and players was likely years away, even in a unionized environment, and the initial focus would be on reinforcing the health, safety and welfare of players via increased medical benefits and practice restrictions.

Clifford, a 24-year-old Illinois native, is entering his sixth year at Penn State and will be one of the Big Ten's most high-profile players during the 2022 season.