On Wednesday, August 5, a letter representing more than 1,000 Big Ten college football players was published on The Players’ Tribune. The letter represents 23 different varsity sports at schools in every major conference, as well as across every NCAA division.
The Big Ten players worked through a collective called the College Athlete Unity (CAU) to address shortfalls in the Big Ten’s COVID-19 safety protocol proposals and offer alternative solutions. According to the letter, the CAU “seeks to empower collegiate athletes to use their platforms for change. We support the right of all athletes to stand up and speak out.”
Where Does the Big Ten’s Proposal Fall Short?
Overall, the players feel that the NCAA failed to properly prepare for a safe return to football. “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 players wrote. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”
The players, with CAU’s help, expressed the desire to collaborate with the Big Ten conference to devise a comprehensive plan for safety and well-being of players. The fact that conference leaders excluded players from this conversation, the letter explains, is “deeply disappointing.”
On Wednesday, the Big Ten released its 2020 schedule, which is set to begin on September 3. Each school will play five home games and give away games. The “Big Ten Conference COVID-19 Medical Protocols Executive Summary” published at the same time to outline the testing, isolation, and safety protocols in place throughout the season.
The Players’ “Unity Proposal”
According to the letter from CAU, many Big Ten players are disappointed with the conference’s response to COVID-19 and wish to implement a “Unity Proposal” with five main tenants:
- Oversight and transparency, including penalties for noncompliance
- Prevention and safety, including temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing, and sanitation for all uniforms, equipment, and athletic facilities
- Testing and contact tracing, including athletes, coaches, trainers, medical staff, nutrition staff, referees, and the media
- Player assurances, such as whistleblower protection, banning COVID-19 liability waivers, and preservation of athletic eligibility, scholarship, and roster spot for any player who opts out of the season due to COVID-19
- Hazard-related economic support, including coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 incurred by active college athletes
This letter from the players is timely, especially considering that two Big Ten programs in Rutgers and Northwestern were recently forced to halt their team workouts due to outbreaks of confirmed COVID-19 cases among players and coaches.
The Big Ten has yet to respond to the players’ letter, but when they do, fans can surely expect negotiations to help ensure players feel supported and protected during the upcoming season of uncertainty.