UAB Football Becomes First Full Team to Join Players Association

Last Updated on May 3, 2024

On Monday, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football team made headlines by becoming the first full team to join, a players’ association created for college athletes. 

This move comes as AO co-founder Jim Cavale and CEO Brandon Copeland work to organize players to position them to leverage the likely shift towards a more professionalized model of college sports.

During this unprecedented time in the college athletics industry, AO is one of the several organizations that have formed in anticipation that the athletes will soon be able to have a share in the revenue generated by the NCAA and its member conferences and universities. However, AO is not a labor union, as the UAB players and other current AO members are not employees and therefore cannot engage in collective bargaining. Instead, AO operates akin to a trade association. Athletes voluntarily join the association to advocate for common interests and gain free access to services, including support from marketing professionals, pro bono attorneys, and mental health professionals.

Several critical questions remain unanswered, awaiting resolution in ongoing court cases that could push the industry away from the current amateurism model. Among the key questions that need clarification are whether college athletes will be classified as employees, similar to the regional NLRB ruling that classified Dartmouth men’s basketball players as employees, and whether they will indeed have the opportunity to share in the billions of dollars in revenue generated by college sports. 

Head coach Trent Dilfer led the charge in accepting the invitation from Cavale.

“They’re going to have a seat at the table,” Dilfer said to ESPN. “I wanted to make sure I helped pour gasoline on something that is going to happen no matter what. I might as well use my influence to help it happen faster on behalf of our players.”

Given recent lawsuits and rulings challenging the NCAA’s stance on amateurism, athletes may receive more widespread employment status. Should this occur, organizations like AO could function more like a labor union for the athletes, similar to the NFL Players Association. 

However, as Michael McCann highlights in his recent Sportico article, “Whether collegiate employee-athletes can unionize is a very complicated topic that does not have a one-size-fits-all answer.” Several factors contribute to this complexity, including varying state laws that may affect schools differently nationwide, disparities in employment laws between public and private universities, and the potential classification of conferences or the NCAA as joint employers.

For now, AO has more than 2,900 members and plans to continue growing its membership as the college athletics industry rapidly evolves.  

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

No Comments Yet.