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Big Ten football student-athletes release a 'Big Ten Unity Proposal,' NCAA sets more guidelines for fall sports

Proposed actions include widespread testing and a ban on liability waivers

August 5, 2020
<p>Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.</p>

Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The effort to make fall college sports a reality continues as a group of more than 1,000 Big Ten football players have released a proposal in the Players Tribune named “#BigTenUnited” asking for more “common-sense” COVID-19 safety protocols, economic assistance, and accountability measures.

In addition, the NCAA Board of Governors delegated the decision on fall sport championships to the individual divisions and also outlined their own guidelines including scholarship retention and a deadline for Aug. 21 to decide whether fall sports will commence as scheduled.

After the Big Ten Conference announced their schedule and testing protocols for the 2020 conference-only schedule for fall sports, over 1,000 football players from the Big Ten released guidelines they would like to see before they take the field the weekend of Sept. 5. 

In their proposal that was outlined in the Players Tribune, the players are asking for: sufficient penalties for noncompliance to the testing protocols and a mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations. 

With testing, the players are asking for contact tracing and testing for individuals such as coaches, trainers, media, etc. that come in contact with student-athletes, twice per week testing, and a test taken at least 24 hours before the scheduled competition. 

The players are also asking for assurances with a ban on COVID-19 liability waivers such as the ones Ohio State used early this summer, whistleblower protections for players and personnel reporting suspected violations, preserving of scholarships for players who opt-out or miss more than 40% of a season due to COVID-19 complications and reimbursement of stipends that were reduced this summer, coverage of out-of-pocket medical expenses due to COVID-19.

Some of the proposed items from the players were included in the Big Ten’s announcement today such as a third-party testing site, a retainment if a player's scholarship should they opt-out due to COVID-19, and twice a week testing.

The Big Ten players who contributed to the proposal were critical of the NCAA’s handling 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. “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 Big Ten football players see the current landscape of conference-only seasons for fall sports as the lack of effort and speed on the behalf of the NCAA.

“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 said. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”

The NCAA Board of Governors released an update on fall sports shortly after the Players Tribune proposal was published. In their update, the Board of Governors announced they would be delegating decisions on whether fall sports should be held to the individual divisions, rather than a blanket NCAA decision. The Board of Governors outlined some requirements for the divisions including that a decision be made by Aug. 21 on fall sports, all fall sports must follow the “return-to-sport guidelines” the NCAA recently released and that all schools must follow state and federal guidelines. 

The Board of Governors even mandated some of the things the Big Ten players were asking for such as student-athletes being able to opt-out, and retain their scholarship, schools not requiring athletes to waive their legal rights like the COVID-19 liability waivers and schools covering any out-of-pocket medical expenses for student-athletes dealing with COVID-19 related issues.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the first priority needs to be the safety of its student-athletes.

“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” Emmert said in a press release. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”

As the Sept. 3 start date for Big Ten college football inches closer, a lot more discussions and planning will need to be done before a season can be played.

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