Jason Stahl was "smuggled" into the Penn State football team meeting room the morning of July 14. The 44-year-old executive director of the College Football Players Association has pictures to prove it.
About 100 Nittany Lions were there awaiting his presentation in a meeting called by quarterback Sean Clifford. They discussed joining Stahl's nascent CFBPA, a labor group that (through Stahl) eventually presented a list of demands to the Big Ten that included sharing revenue from the conference's media rights contract with its workforce.
However, the CFBPA's eventual plan ---- is indeed to unionize if Big Ten officials refuse to voluntarily meet at the bargaining table.
A slideshow presentation from the meeting -- obtained by CBS Sports -- details a "long win" strategy that includes "official unionization." By spring 2023, the CFBPA anticipates "negotiating CBA" (collective bargaining agreement).
That timeline was derailed when a Penn State assistant coach entered during the final five minutes of the meeting, Stahl said.
"We hid it. We hid it all," Stahl told CBS Sports. "[The players] literally smuggled me into this facility at 7:30 in the morning to do an all-day presentation when there were no coaches around. The only reason this leaked out, the last five minutes of the presentation, the strength and training coach walked in the room."
A budding labor movement may have been slowed that day. Clifford on Friday released a statement distancing himself from involvement with the CFBPA; however, that doesn't mean the players' rights movement over at Penn State or anywhere else.
Contained on thatwas not only revenue sharing but enhanced health care.
CFBPA unionization was not mentioned Friday when Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren reacted to the demands with a statement. In fact, Stahl went out of his way to tell CBS Sports, "We are not a union."
However, when reached on Monday, Stahl further crystallized his organization's demands.
"There's basically two possible threats. One is the most incendiary and [another is] one level below that," Stahl said he told the players. "That is, not report to fall camp. Nobody was on board with that. The backup option is to unionize -- unionize the entire Big Ten Conference."
While similar, the Penn State situation is not as significant as the unionization attempt by Northwestern players in 2015.
Players' rights is a topic that won't go away as the NCAA undergoes a significant transformation. At the top end of college athletics, there is a slow migration toward an employee/employer relationship between athletes and schools. While collective bargaining wouldn't technically go that far, it would represent a significant change.
Warren said Friday that the Big Ten was forming a student-athlete advisory committee "about the changing landscape of college athletics."
Stahl theorizes that word of the meeting reached the Penn State coaching staff, athletic director Patrick Kraft and finally the Big Ten after it was interrupted by an assistant. Following Warren's statement, Clifford clarified his position.
"To characterize my dialogues being on behalf of a union or union member would be inaccurate," Clifford wrote.
Clifford is not a member of the CFBPA, but Stahl said three dozen of Clifford's Penn State teammates signed up by paying the $24 annual dues. Stahl said he had organized players in State College, Pennsylvania, for eight days earlier in the month.
"Sean is now going through a massive internal conflict," Stahl told CBS Sports. "'Do I believe this man who I kind of just met?' I told him I loved him at one point."
The day after the meeting, Stahl said he told Clifford: "I'm about to send a group text to 14 people on your team who bought in and were ready to take up a leadership position. If you don't want to do it, someone will step in and fill the void."
The Big Ten and Penn State did not respond to CBS Sports' latest request for comment with the Nittany Lions sticking to the statement they released Friday.
"Over the course of several conversations in recent weeks with Sean Clifford, he has shared with me his desire to explore pathways to improve the student-athlete experience for all student-athletes in the Big Ten," said Dr. Patrick Kraft, Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics.
"Sean is a tremendous young man who is educating himself on some of the major issues in intercollegiate athletics. Last week, I suggested to him that I connect him with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to have a broader conversation on the student-athlete experience, and I hope they both have found those conversations to be beneficial. I am supportive of -- and take great pride in -- student-athletes using their voices to affect positive change in all areas of life.
The CFBPA presentation initially states the goal is to establish a "PSU Chapter" of the association with the "entire team signed up as members."
The further plan was to launch a media campaign on July 18, which did not ultimately transpire, before bringing Big Ten leadership and the CFBPA "to the table to negotiate our demands." A deal between the two parties would then have been announced Wednesday at the end of Big Ten media days. (That is not likely to occur.)
A slide titled "Winning the Big Ten" suggested showing "… strength in the Big Ten across all teams including USC and UCLA" and bringing, "B1G leadership and CFBPA B1G leadership to the table to negotiate our demands."
Stahl resigned as a professor at the University of Minnesota in summer 2020. He started the CFBPA in 2021.