• Loading stock data...
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why Jim Harbaugh’s Comments About Athlete Pay Unionization During the CFP Were Such a Big Deal

  • Harbaugh used the CFP’s stage to endorse athlete revenue-sharing and unionization.
  • The NCAA and administrators can no longer call these views fringe, and Harbaugh’s comments could inspire others to speak out.
Jim Harbaugh
Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that a top college coach would endorse ideas like sharing revenue with athletes and allowing them to unionize. But this week, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh endorsed them and on the biggest stage in college sports.

The championship-winning coach took multiple opportunities during the College Football Playoff, including during his post-championship presser, to advocate for paying players and allowing them to unionize.

“The thing I would change about college football is to let the talent share in the ever-increasing revenues,” Harbaugh told reporters on Tuesday after winning the national title. “We’re all robbing the same train.” He went after his own benefactors, saying that the NCAA, conferences, and schools hire “armies” of “tall-building lawyers” to protect their positions against paying players. Harbaugh then endorsed athlete unionization, a concept the NCAA has opposed for years since it would require athletes to be considered employees. Harbaugh told the players sitting beside him that unionization was the next step. “There’s no voice for the student-athletes right now, and it just needs to change.”

The comments reflect a shift in public opinion: The NCAA and administrators can no longer dismiss these views as fringe. At the same time, how he used the most mainstream status quo platform of the CFP to amplify his message could influence other coaches to do the same. (Harbaugh also appears to be unafraid of upsetting those “tall-building lawyers,” who will likely have to confront his comments in court.)

“For him to come out and say it’s time for the players to unionize—for the coach who just won the national championship to say that is striking,” Jason Stahl, executive director of the College Football Players Association, tells Front Office Sports. “And I commend him for it.” Stahl added that “there’s a reason” other coaches don’t speak out against the status quo anytime, let alone on game days. 

Maybe, as some internet critics have suggested, Harbaugh made these comments to distract from his other scandals related to recruiting and sign-stealing. Or maybe he’s already in trouble with the NCAA and doesn’t seem to mind upsetting them more. The rumors swirling about a future in the NFL have even factored in, with some suggesting that his imminent departure from college football allows him to speak freely.

But Harbaugh has been talking about paying the players all season—he’s even said he would take a pay cut to help facilitate. In fact, he’s been saying it in the locker room for years. “He’s always held that belief,” former Michigan fullback Jared Wangler, who played for Harbaugh during some of his earlier years at the helm of the Wolverines, tells Front Office Sports. “He’s now expressing it more.”

And he isn’t alone. Other coaches have advocated for forms of athlete revenue sharing or player organizing efforts. Multiple lawsuits around the country and two National Labor Relations Board cases have advocated for various types of athlete unions, salaries, and employee status. And just last month, NCAA President Charlie Baker proposed a new system by which players at the richest schools could receive money through a trust fund (though he has since reiterated that he doesn’t believe athletes should be considered employees).

Stahl, for his part, hopes that Harbaugh takes action. The championship coach appears at least willing to continue the conversation—when asked by reporters if he’d be willing to chat with NCAA stakeholders, he said, “I think they know my number.” 

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Sports Illustrated

Is the Owner of 5-Hour Energy Drink Turning ‘SI’ Into a Five-Hour Energy Promotional Arm?

A new story has elevated employees’ concerns about the outlet’s editorial autonomy.
Washington State

Washington State Cuts Football Coaches’ Salaries Up to 10%

The Pac-2 football team has an athletic department deficit near $100 million.
Howard University

Howard’s Figure Skating Team Part of Olympic Sport Growth at HBCUs

Olympic sports at HBCUs are growing, with gymnastics and swimming gaining momentum.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

MLB’s Media Mess

0:00
0:00

Featured Today

Oct 5, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, points to the lettering outside of the museum Tuesday.

How Do You Keep Negro Leagues Baseball History Alive? Put It in a Video Game

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum attracting increased donations, visits from ‘MLB The Show.’
February 26, 2024

The Victor Wembanyama Rookie Card Market Hasn’t Matched His Hype

A cooling market and Fanatics autograph deal leaves big-money collectors waiting.
February 25, 2024

Sham Gods: The Rapidly Growing World of Sports Impersonators on X

Fake Schefters and Wojs, fabricated trade demands, and borrowed profile pictures.
Sep 24, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; A general view of the Oakland Athletics dugout after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
February 24, 2024

Murky Future: Everything You Need to Know About the A’s Move to Las Vegas

Breaking down one of the most drawn-out, multifaceted sagas in sports.

Careers

Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Spotify
Multiple - USA Careers
Nike
Multiple - USA Careers
EA
Multiple - USA Careers
Caitlin Clark

Iowa Star Caitlin Clark Makes It Official: She’s WNBA-Bound

Iowa star Caitlin Clark announced she is declaring for the WNBA draft.
Cornhole
February 27, 2024

From Tailgates to Scholarships: Winthrop Elevates Cornhole to Collegiate Status

The Rock Hill, S.C., school signed two high school players out of the Denver area to scholarships.
February 28, 2024

The George Kliavkoff Era in the Pac-12 Comes to an End

Kliavkoff presided over the 108-year-old conference’s demise.
Sponsored

How LivePass is Redefining Ticketing for the Next Generation of Fans

The next wave of ticketing technology.
Caitlin Clark
February 27, 2024

Iowa–Ohio State Is the Most Expensive Women’s Basketball Game Ever

The average purchased ticket is $577, while the get-in is $491.
February 27, 2024

Dissecting the Great Court-Storming Debate. What’s Next?

Wake Forest was not fined after rushing the court against Duke.
February 26, 2024

NAIA School Raising Money to Play in Postseason

The University of Antelope Valley in California is closing, causing one coach to raise money for the national tournament.
UMass
February 26, 2024

More Conference Realignment: UMass Reportedly Heading to the MAC

The Atlantic 10 loses a founding member.