Big Ten Football Players Release “Unity Proposal” for Returning to Play

By Dan Hope on August 5, 2020 at 11:51 am
Justin Fields

Football players from around the Big Ten are following the Pac-12's lead.

Three days after football players from around the Pac-12 released a list of demands for returning to play this season, Big Ten football players released a “unity proposal” of their own on Wednesday morning through College Athlete Unity and The Players Tribune.

While the Big Ten players' proposal does not include any stated threat to opt out of the 2020 season or for players to receive revenue, which the Pac-12 proposal does, it does call for both the NCAA and the Big Ten to take more steps to protect players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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 said in their statement published on The Players Tribune. “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.”

Requests from the Big Ten players in Wednesday's #BigTenUnited statement include a ban on the use of COVID-19 liability waivers, an automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses any competitions due to a positive test or a mandatory quarantine due to contact tracing, complimentary access to the Big Ten Network for athletes’ family members and coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 (both short-term and long-term) incurred by active college athletes.

The full list of demands:

Oversight and Transparency

  • Third-party, approved by players, to administer COVID testing and to enforce all COVID-19 health and safety standards
  • Sufficient penalties for noncompliance
  • Mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations

Prevention and Safety Protocols

  • Ensure all athletes have up-to-date information about the risks that COVID-19 may pose to their personal health, the health of their families and the health of their communities
  • Adherence to WHO and CDC guidance for sporting events and compliance with all federal, state, and local statutes and regulations
  • Safety standards that are appropriate for each sport
  • Social distancing requirements and mandatory mask-wearing in and around athletic facilities by coaches, staff, players, vendors, press, and visitors
  • Minimum cleaning and sanitation protocols for all uniforms, equipment, and athletic facilities, including visitor locker rooms
  • Temperature checks for anyone entering any athletic facility

Testing, Contact Tracing and Related Procedures

  • Contact-tracing protocols for anyone who comes into contact with college athletes and team personnel who test positive
  • Testing of everyone who comes into contact with college athletes, including coaches, trainers, medical staff, nutrition staff, referees, media, etc.
  • In-season testing of all of the above three days per week
    • Testing twice per week with an FDA-approved test with less than 1% false negatives
    • Additionally, 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, with results delivered at least two hours before competition
  • Immediate quarantine of any person who tests positive or exhibits symptoms
  • Quarantine rules for college athletes who test positive, and protocols for their return to practice and competition
  • Objective criteria for shutting down seasons should the pandemic take a turn for the worse or if teams experience significant outbreaks

Player Assurances

  • Whistleblower protections for athletics personnel and college athletes reporting a suspected violation
  • Ban the use of COVID-19 liability waivers
  • Automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses any competitions due to a positive test or a mandatory quarantine due to contact tracing
  • Preserve athletic eligibility, scholarship, and roster spot for any player who opts out of athletic participation or is unable to play more than 40% of their scheduled season due to COVID-19 or season postponement/cancellation
  • Complimentary access to the Big Ten Network for athletes’ family members

Hazard-Related Economic Support

  • Coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 (both short-term and long-term) incurred by active college athletes
  • Scholarship protections (including room, board and stipend) in the event that the season is canceled due to COVID-19
  • An adjustment to the cost-of-living stipend to account for the increase in personal expenses related to limited access that players have to facilities
  • Reimbursement for stipends that were reduced during the summer

The statement does not specify which players authored the proposal, though Michigan cornerback Hunter Reynolds and Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste are listed as media contacts for the group. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday that there had been ongoing conversations among Big Ten players about a potential unity statement, and Lettermen Row's Tim May reported that 59 Ohio State players responded to College Athlete Unity's solicitations of interest, though the players and what their responses entailed were not specified.

“I’m really glad to see different athletes around the country try to come together to have a voice for college athletes,” Fields said. “I’m glad to see that. A few of the guys have talked about getting our own thing together in the Big Ten so we can have a voice like they’re doing. I definitely agree with what they’re doing.”

The Big Ten's COVID-19 Medical Protocols released on Wednesday already include some of the protocols requested by the players, including twice-weekly tests, though they do not include testing on the day of competition. That said, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Wednesday during an interview on BTN that the conference is working on incorporating rapid testing in addition to the PCR tests that athletes will receive during the week.

Warren spoke with two athlete representatives from all 14 conference schools during a Zoom call on Monday night to discuss those medical protocols and other concerns with Big Ten athletes, according to The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach, and told ESPN's Mark Schlabach that he read the players' letter on Tuesday and is open to speaking to the players about it.

"If you really unpack the letter, you'll see that they have some very thoughtful recommendations and thoughtful insight into what's important to them," Warren told ESPN. "Many of those things, we're already doing, but because I always embrace really healthy communication with people in the Big Ten, and especially our student-athletes, I'll spend some time with the letter and I'm sure I'll have some communication with them.”

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