Three hours after the Big Ten Conference announced its football schedules for the 2020 season, players released a letter to the NCAA and the conference expressing their concerns about returning to play.
The letter from College Athlete Unity, an advocacy group of college athletes, was published on The Players’ Tribune and says it expresses “the concerns of over 1,000 Big Ten football players.” It’s unclear how many players were involved in the writing of these proposals. The letter says that players feel the conference’s return-to-play plan “falls short in certain areas.”
The letter comes three days after a group of Pac-12 players threatened to boycott fall practices and games if the conference does not meet demands related to safety, racial justice and compensation. The Big Ten’s letter focuses specifically on health and safety protocols amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Conferences have independently adjusted their schedules for the 2020 season, with the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 only playing conference games this year. The NCAA provided guidelines for how schools should manage players’ return to campus and possible outbreaks, but the organization has left most decisions to the divisions and conferences.
“The NCAA – which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement – has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing,” the letter from College Athlete Unity says. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”
The Big Ten announced Wednesday that during the season football players will be tested a minimum of twice per week, and testing will be managed by a third-party laboratory. In the Big Ten players’ letter, the group asked for three coronavirus tests per week.
The proposal asks for a third party to enforce safety standards, with penalties for noncompliance, mandatory reporting of possible violations by athletic department personnel and whistleblower protections. The NCAA announced Wednesday that it will establish a phone number and email for athletes and parents to report violations.
The Big Ten has already committed to some of the proposals outlined in the letter, such as contact tracing protocols and guaranteed scholarships for players who choose to opt out of the season. The letter also asks that players receive medical redshirts if they miss games after testing positive or because of a quarantine required through contact tracing.
The NCAA said all athletes can opt out of the season and will remain on scholarship, but it is still unclear how that could affect their eligibility. Athletes are allowed to play four seasons over five years, but if the player has already redshirted and then opts out of the 2020 season, he would lose a year of eligibility unless the NCAA grants him a waiver. The NCAA said each division must determine eligibility accommodations and inform players of their eligibility status before the beginning of the fall season.
The letter from College Athlete Unity addresses financial support for players through short- and long-term coverage of medical expenses related to the coronavirus. The group asks that players be reimbursed for their cost-of-living stipends that were reduced this summer and if the season is canceled, players still receive their scholarships and stipends.
At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he is “categorically opposed” to schools having athletes sign coronavirus-related liability waivers. The letter from College Athlete Unity says such waivers should be banned, and the NCAA said Wednesday that schools cannot require these waivers.
As teams plan to play with a limited number of fans or no fans, the letter also asks that all players’ families receive free access to the Big Ten Network.
The Big Ten season will begin the weekend of Sept. 5 with a schedule that offers flexibility should games need to be rescheduled. Each team has two open weekends, and the Big Ten championship scheduled for Dec. 5 could be pushed back to either of the next two weekends.
In the letter, College Athlete Unity requested “objective criteria for shutting down seasons should the pandemic take a turn for the worse or if teams experience significant outbreaks.”
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