Group of Pac-12 athletes unite, threaten opt out unless athletes’ demands of conference are met

Athletes at Pac-12 institutions have announced a unity group to negotiate with the conference and league ahead of fall sports starting, with specific demands in regards to the upcoming football season for "fair treatment for college athletes." 

The group's goals, announced in a news release and published in a Players Tribune article Sunday titled #WeAreUnited, range from clearer COVID-19 safety protocols and increased testing to racial equality and name, image and likeness rights. The news release is signed "Players of the Pac-12," and includes the names of 12 players representing nine of the 12 schools in the conference. It is made on behalf of "hundreds" of the conference's football players.

"We are being asked to play college sports in a pandemic in a system without enforced health and safety standards, and without transparency about COVID cases on our teams, the risks to ourselves, our families, and our communities," the missive reads. "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."  

"We support our student-athletes using their voice,and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics," the Pac-12 said in a statement. "As we have clearly stated with respect to our fall competition plans, we are, and always will be, directed by medical experts, with the health, safety and well being of our student athletes, coaches and staff always the first priority." 

While the players’ statement does not mention this, several Pac-12 schools have announced dramatic changes to their academic instruction plans for the fall due to the pandemic. As examples: Washington State had said all undergraduate courses will be taught remotely “with extremely limited exceptions for in-person instruction.” Stanford plans to have only two class-years of students on campus each quarter, except for students “with unique needs to be present in a particular quarter.” Cal will at least begin the fall semester with fully remote teaching, and all classes – as well as final exams – will be conducted remotely after Thanksgiving.

It is unclear how many athletes would participate in a potential boycott or how many schools would be impacted. 

“I want to see the conference at its 100% all around the board. We lack enforced health and safety standards, putting ourselves and others at risk," Washington State offensive lineman Dallas Hobbs said in a news release courtesy of the "college football player opt-out movement."

"I believe we need the basic rights and benefits that will help our future. We are all grateful for what we have but there is so much more that would create generational change.”

The Pac-12 has become the second major conference to shift to a conference-only fall schedule amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Ralph Freso, AP)

One of the desired health and safety protections is voiding COVID-19 agreements, which some schools have made players sign, that waive liability. A third party to enforce the coronavirus standards must be player-approved, too. 

The demands also call for commissioner Larry Scott, administrators and coaches to take pay cuts to preserve all existing programs. 

Scott is taking a 12% cut in his base salary for the 2021 fiscal year. His base salary was $2.95 million during the 2018 calendar year, according to the conference’s recently released federal tax records; his total pay, including bonuses and other forms of compensation, was reported at $5.4 million. 

Several Pac-12 schools have announced pay reductions for AD’s and highly compensated coaches, including Washington State (5%), Washington (5%), Colorado (10%) and Arizona (20%).

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) posted a series of tweets in response to the Pac-12 football players' movement, calling it a "watershed moment."

This is perhaps a watershed moment in college sports. PAC 12 football players are threatening to boycott the season unless their civil rights demands are met, including:

1. COVID protections
2. revenue sharing for athletes
3. guaranteed scholarshipshttps://t.co/QUVaitr2lH

Among the social justice demands, players want two percent of conference revenue to be directed toward financial aid for low-income Black players, community initiatives and development programs. 

"The lack of regard for our health and safety is central to the systemic racial injustices imposed by NCAA sports that disproportionately exploits Black athletes physically, academically, and financially," the release states. "Black athletes make up the majority of revenue sports rosters but have the lowest graduation rates and are denied basic economic rights and freedoms.

The group also proposed a 50-50 revenue split among athletes, guaranteed medical expense coverage and six-year athletic scholarships. 

"We have made it clear that any student athlete who chooses not to return to competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected," the Pac-12 said in their statement. 

"The threat that coronavirus poses to us and our families is not only real but exposes the inequities of the system that we are a part of," Cal offensive lineman Valentino Daltoso said in the release. "Moving forward we want to have a system in place that values Black lives by ensuring that a majority black workforce is provided basic economic rights and health protections. Our strength as players comes from our collective unity and willingness to advocate for ourselves, because if we don’t, no one else will." 

The Pac-12 announced its 10-game football conference schedule on Friday, with games starting no earlier than Sept. 26.  It calls for at least two weekends of regular season play after Thanksgiving, with the possibility of a third if games set to be played earlier in the season cannot be staged as planned.

Contributing: Steve Berkowitz

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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