Big Ten Football Players Call for Increased COVID-19 Safety Measures in Proposal

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2020

The Big Ten logo is seen on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Big Ten football players released a statement through the College Athlete Unity organization Wednesday seeking more comprehensive conversations with the NCAA and the conference about safety measures for the 2020 college football season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A 24-point plan, called the "Big Ten Unity Proposal," posted on The Players' Tribune seeks further oversight and transparency about the handling of COVID-19 after the conference announced the schedule and pandemic protocols for the upcoming season earlier Wednesday:

"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. 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 statement took direct aim at the NCAA, which the players say has taken a "laissez-faire approach" by leaving major decisions about the 2020 season up to individual conferences.

"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," the statement read.

Among the requests by the players is a third-party group in charge of handling COVID-19 testing and enforcement of health and safety measures. In addition, it wants a mandate for members of the athletics department to report potential violations of protocols and whistleblower protections for those who do.

Players are also seeking a minimum of three weekly coronavirus tests, including one on the day of competition. The Big Ten proposal included two weekly tests for high-contact sports.

Players also want a wide range of assurances and protections, including a ban on liability waivers, a medical redshirt for players who miss time because of a positive test, coverage of medical expenses incurred because of COVID-19 and a preservation of scholarships if the season is ultimately canceled.

Pac-12 football players released a similar list of "unity demands" Monday on The Players' Tribune and threatened to boycott the 2020 season if concessions weren't made by the NCAA and the conference.

"We are united in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes," their statement read. "Due to COVID-19 and other serious concerns, we will opt-out of Pac-12 fall camp and game participation unless the following demands are guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons."

Big Ten players didn't make reference to a potential boycott but urged a rapid increase in talks.

"We have started a dialogue in good faith with the Big Ten and hope that the NCAA will follow suit," they said. "Given the short time frame, and with our season at stake, this conversation must happen now."

The Big Ten schedule released Wednesday calls for practice to begin Friday with the start of the regular season—a 10-game, conference-only slate—set for Sept. 5.