Thirteen football players from the Pac-12 Conference said they would consider opting-out of their 2020 season due to the way the universities were handling the coronavirus, which they said prioritized money over safety.
What We Know:
- The athletes, who are from 10 schools and include All-American and honor roll candidates, threatened on Sunday to opt-out and boycott the upcoming season, saying that they would not play unless the universities address the problems of systemic inequality that were highlighted by their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The players said the schools have had inadequate transparency regarding the health risks of playing a contact sport such as football, during an outbreak. They also shared that there is a lack of uniform safety measures and an absence of ample enforcement of health and safety guidelines.
- The players issued their concerns with the league through The Players’ Tribune in which they shared the hashtag #WeAreUnited in an attempt to also engage the support from other athletes in various conferences. The group shared that one of their main missions is to address racial injustice with the conference and the schools involved. The letter states a reason for speaking up is “Because NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically, and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes, #WeAreUnited.”
- The athletes feel as though these shortcomings represent a larger systemic issue within college sports in which players have little standing to address social, economic, or racial inequalities. They want some of the millions of dollars of revenue they generate for the schools to be used towards addressing those inequalities. “The people who are deciding whether we are going to play football are going to prioritize money over health and safety 10 times out of 10,” said Jaydon Grant, a senior defensive back at Oregon State.
- The announcement comes as colleges across the country are struggling with how to proceed during the coronavirus pandemic. While the Ivy League conference has already canceled sports until January 2021, universities in the four major conferences, the Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Atlantic Coast, who rely on the lucrative revenue from their football teams, have opted for a conference-only season.
- Decisions to have a college football season has received some pushback as people question whether the universities can, and should, require unpaid college athletes to play, despite the risks of the coronavirus pandemic, in order to keep an influx of money coming to the athletic departments. The NCAA has not instituted any league-wide health and safety standards such as the standards on the frequency of testing or other protocols, which is currently left up to each individual school.
- The Pac-12 players represent the first collective effort to question why players are assuming so much risk. They have said the conditions for their return include not only increased health and safety protocols but also measures that would redistribute some of the millions of dollars that college football generates. In the redistribution, players ask Commissioner Larry Scott, whose salary is $5.3 million a year, as well as other coaches and administrators to drastically reduce their pay and end costly facility spending.
- Additionally, the document has four main categories of demands to “protect and benefit both scholarship and walk-on athletes,” including health and safety protections, eliminating excessive expenditures to protect all sports, ending racial injustice in college sports and society, as well as economic freedom and equity. Some of the demands include “increased medical insurance coverage, six-year scholarships, the freedom to hire marketing agents, and that 50 percent of each sport’s conference revenue be distributed evenly among athletes in their sport.”
- The Pac-12, in a statement on Saturday, said that it had yet to hear from the group. “Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics. We support our student-athletes using their voice and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics.” The conference also shared that they have allowed any student-athlete to opt-out for health or safety reasons and their scholarships will still be covered.
- The boycott has received support from other athletes across the country, in particular, one of college football’s biggest stars, Clemson University’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence. On Twitter, Lawrence endorsed the Pac-12’s push for fair treatment by sharing and agreeing with Washington cornerback Elijah Molden’s tweet.
Really well said https://t.co/niUC1Yv0Oz
— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 2, 2020
- A staff member at a Pac-12 football program shared with ESPN that the movement is “real” and potentially involves hundreds of players. As of now, the boycott includes players mainly from Cal, Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA, but has players from 10 of the Pac-12 schools with varying involvement from campus to campus.
Commissioner Scott has yet to directly comment on the demands. The Pac-12 conference has approved a 10-game, conference-only fall schedule for football that is scheduled to begin on September 26 with the official training camp anticipated to start on August 17.