INDIANAPOLIS — In the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, student-athletes want a bigger voice.
Led by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, Big Ten Conference players have reportedly had discussions with league commissioner Kevin Warren about improving benefits for players, including post-career medical care and a share of future revenue.
During Warren’s 45-minute news conference at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday — which highlighted conference realignment, name, image and likeness benefits and a new media rights deal — he said the league is creating a Big Ten Student-Athlete Advisory and Advocacy Committee with the goal of allowing student-athletes to address their concerns, such as the idea of sharing media rights revenue.
“I’ve already started some dialogue with our student-athletes,” Warren said from a podium inside Lucas Oil Stadium. “We’re going to amplify that committee here quickly. I want to hear it from them. I want to be a great listener to figure out what is important to them. It’s so easy to talk about money and share money, but what does that mean? I want to make sure that I listen and learn to be able to have big ears and a small mouth to truly understand what’s important to them.”
In 2017, the Big Ten signed a six-year, $2.64 billion media deal with ESPN and Fox Sports that’s set to expire in 2023. Warren said the Big Ten is in the process of finalizing a new media deal and an announcement could happen “sooner rather than later.”
According to Front Office Sports, the league’s broadcast value could be worth between $1.1 billion to $1.25 billion per year after the addition of Southern California and UCLA, who are set to join the league in 2024.
Maryland junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, a former five-star prospect and two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention, said revenue sharing with players in college football is “long overdue.” He said players should be getting paid for performing in front of fans and working behind the scenes to stay on top of their responsibilities as student-athletes.
On Tuesday, Maryland athletic director Damon Evans told The Baltimore Sun “never say never” in regards to the idea of student-athletes getting a share of the media revenue.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen in this business,” Evans said. “We’re going to continue to look at what we can do to enhance the benefits that we provide the student-athletes. Whether that’s additional medical care [and] mental health services. Those are things we need to look at first, then we evolve from there.”
Even though Terps coach Mike Locksley said talks about revenue share are “above his pay grade,” he wants players to make as much money as possible. He said he supports the league’s student-athlete advisory committee, calling it a “step in the right direction.”
“I just think in this day and age, that’s how you raise kids, you have to give them opportunities to voice their opinion,” he said.
Jarrett said he is aware of Big Ten players talking to Warren, but he has not had discussions with Clifford or other league players. However, he thinks players speaking up for improved benefits is important.
“The more benefits a player has, the better,” he said. “You never know when this game may be taken away from you, so I think it’s good that players are allowed to speak up now and have their own voice to say what we want and what we need.”
The announcement of the advisory committee comes after the College Football Players Association (CFBPA) approached Warren with a list of demands, such as having a representative on each campus who advocates for players during medical situations or other disputes; post-football health protections; and players receiving a percentage of the media rights revenue.
The CFBPA was founded in 2021 to organize players to have a collective voice in the decision-making within their sport. However, executive director Jason Stahl, a former professor at the University of Minnesota, said the CFBPA doesn’t classify itself as a union. In 2014, an attempt by Northwestern football players to unionize was ultimately unsuccessful after the National Labor Relations Board declined to rule on the case.
“I think this has been kind of looming for a while now,” Clifford told ESPN earlier this week. “It isn’t as crazy a concept as it was in 2014. Players have rights in the way of name, image and likeness. Now it’s about having a seat at the table with the billion-dollar deals and saying, ‘Hey, we would like to talk about what we can do here.’”
Warren has spoken with Stahl but has not had any negotiations with the CFBPA and currently doesn’t plan to do so. He said he’s focused on developing the Big Ten’s student-athlete advisory committee.
“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,” he said.
Locksley said he is aware of the CFBPA, but doesn’t know much about it, saying he relies on his team’s leadership council to keep him informed and help make decisions for the program. He applauded the the organization “pushing agendas that are all about expanding benefits for players.”
In a statement Friday, however, Clifford distanced himself from the CFBPA, which has said it is still working to launch other chapters across the Big Ten.
“In the last 90 days, the CFBPA presented interesting ideas to me and my teammates with the goal of joining their college football players association,” Clifford said. “However, at this time, I along with many players are committed to working at the campus and conference level to address complexities of collegiate athletics for student-athletes.”
Jarrett knows that if players eventually earn a cut from the league’s media rights, it will likely be when he’s no longer playing college football. Still, he hopes for the day when players get a piece of the pie.
“Everybody sees the schools kind of getting most of the money,” he said. “But the players are doing most of the work. I think everybody should have an equal share.”