More than 1,000 Big Ten Conference football players came together to make health and safety demands for playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The players, who are part of College Athlete Unity, penned a letter on The Players’ Tribune asking the NCAA and Big Ten to ensure certain protocols will be met if they move forward any athletics during the upcoming school year. The Big Ten released its conference-only football schedule on Wednesday, with games starting the weekend of Sept. 5 and ending with the Dec. 5 conference title game.
“While we appreciate the Big Ten’s recently announced plan for the upcoming season, we believe that the conference’s proposal falls short in certain areas,” the players’ letter reads. “Given that the players are the primary stakeholders in the business of college sports, we believe any course of action moving forward needs to include player input. We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by the NCAA with respect to player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that the NCAA must — on its own and through collaboration with the conference — devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season.”
College conferences and teams have been making pandemic-related decisions on their own all summer, with numerous organizations choosing to postpone, only play conference games, push the season back until spring or cancel for the entire school year. In the Big Ten, the Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, Rutgers and Maryland football teams have all had to shut down workouts at various points since athletes returned to campuses earlier this summer. Schools are allowed to start practices Friday.
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“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 reads. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.
“Given that the NCAA and conference leadership have not asked for our input, we feel compelled to call for clarity, commitment, and action regarding our common-sense proposal below.”
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The BIG TEN Unity Proposal broke their demands into five areas: oversight and transparency; prevention and safety protocols; testing, contact tracing and related procedures; player assurances and hazard-related economic support.
Among the top demands for “protecting the well-being of all athletes” are a player-approved third party administering tests and enforcing standards; enforcing penalties for noncompliance; requiring social distancing, masks and temperature checks in athletic facilities; conducting tests and contact tracing three days per week on everyone who comes into contact with college athletes and personnel; quarantining anyone who tests positive or exhibits symptoms; protecting athletes and personnel who report a suspected violation; banning COVID-19 liability waivers; giving medical redshirts to any player who misses competition due to a positive test or mandatory quarantine; preserving athletic eligibility, a scholarship and a roster spot for any athlete who chooses to opt out; covering all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19; and protecting scholarships if seasons are canceled.
The Big Ten players didn’t follow the Pac-12’s lead in threatening not to play if their demands aren’t met.
Related content: Pac-12 Group Seeks Quick Action on Demands