A contingent of Big Ten football players issued a list of demands Wednesday it wants implemented by the conference and the NCAA for a 2020 season already in major jeopardy of being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The demands from College Athlete Unity, a group representing over 1,000 players from the conference, were published in a letter posted on The Players’ Tribune. The “Big Ten United” campaign was released just days after a similar set of mandates from a group of Pac-12 Conference players and only a few hours following the release of a revised conference-only schedule by the Big Ten on Wednesday morning.
“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,” Big Ten United said in the letter. “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.
“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. 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.”
The Big Ten unveiled safety and testing protocols along with its updated schedule, and the NCAA Board of Governors later announced a list of requirements that need to be met in order for the organization to support championships and other postseason play for fall sports.
The NCAA said it will establish a phone number and email to allow student-athletes, parents and others the opportunity to report alleged failures regarding COVID-19 testing protocol and adherence to safety procedures.
Among other NCAA requirements:
- All student-athletes must be allowed to opt out of participation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. If a college athlete chooses to opt out, that individual’s athletics scholarship commitment must be honored by the college or university.
- Member schools may not require student-athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation.
- Member schools, in conjunction with existing insurance standards, must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for college athletes and their families.
The CAU in its letter asked for a third-party entity, approved by players, to administer COVID testing and enforce all COVID-19 health and safety standards. It also requested sufficient penalties for noncompliance and a mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations.
While the Big Ten plan calls for two tests per week in its high-risk contact sports, including football, the CAU proposal calls for three tests per week: two tests per week with an FDA-approved test with less than 1% false negatives; and testing on the day of competition, or within 24 hours of competition for each team that can be quarantined, with an FDA-approved test with less than 5% false negatives and results that can be delivered at least two hours before competition.
The only players listed in the letter announcing the CAU’s “Big Ten Campaign” are its two representatives, Minnesota defensive back Benjamin St-Juste and Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds. The group later said in a tweet that University of Wisconsin defensive backs Faion Hicks and Madison Cone were “among a group of athletes that assisted in the creation of our proposal.”
Unlike the proposal issued by Pac-12 players on Sunday, the Big Ten group stopped short of threatening to boycott the 2020 season.
But it did stress the need for urgency, considering the opening game of the season is only four weeks away.
“We have started a dialogue in good faith with the Big Ten and hope that the NCAA will follow suit,” CAU said in its letter. “Given the short time frame, and with our season at stake, this conversation must happen now.”
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