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Coronavirus: Group of Big Ten players make player safety requests of Big Ten and NCAA

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 8/5/2020 Nick Bromberg

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Over 1,000 players from the Big Ten called on the NCAA to have a comprehensive plan regarding player safety for the 2020 football season Wednesday morning shortly before the NCAA released its guidelines for fall sports.

The players outlined their wishes in a Players Tribune post on Wednesday. The post by the group College Athlete Unity called out the NCAA for doing “nothing” despite having “ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition.”

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.

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

In the post, the players request numerous standards regarding coronavirus testing, social distancing and contact tracing. The players also want whistleblower protection for anyone who reports alleged violations of coronavirus protocols, a ban on the use of COVID-19 liability waivers and an automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses time because of a mandatory coronavirus quarantine.

The players also want athletic eligibility, scholarships and roster spots reserved for any player who decides to opt out of the 2020 season for safety reasons or is unable to play more than 40 percent of the season because of coronavirus or a season postponement. The Big Ten had previously said that any player who opted out of the season would be able to retain his or her scholarship.

NCAA releases fall sports requirements

Not long after the players’ letter was made public, the NCAA said Wednesday that all fall sports must follow the guidelines to return to play that were made public in July. And it also addressed some of the players’ concerns, though it’s fair to wonder why the NCAA could not have made the contents of this letter public weeks earlier.

The NCAA said in its letter to schools that players would not have to sign coronavirus waivers with their schools and it would set up a hotline for players and staff to report breaches of coronavirus protocols.

From the NCAA’s guidelines:

Member schools may not require student-athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation. 

Member schools, in conjunction with existing insurance standards, must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for college athletes and their families.

Any NCAA fall championship or other postseason contests must be conducted within enhanced safety protocols for student-athletes and essential athletics personnel. These safety enhancements will include regular testing, separation of college athletes and essential personnel from all other nonessential personnel, and physical distancing and masking policies during all aspects of noncompetition. 

The Big Ten players’ request was made public a day after players at Colorado State alleged to multiple media outlets that the school was not following or enforcing its own coronavirus protocols. The president of the school has called for an investigation into those allegations.

Numerous players have opted out of the 2020 college football season because of coronavirus concerns. That includes star Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, a likely early pick in the 2021 NFL draft. A student group in the Pac-12 has also requested to meet with the conference to discuss its concerns.

Big Ten released protocols Wednesday

The Big Ten released its medical protocols for fall sports just before the players’ letter came out. The Big Ten said that football players will be tested a minimum of twice per week — players had asked for three tests per week.

The conference is also routing all tests through a third-party lab. Third-party testing was a request of the players’ group. Per the Athletic, players and commissioner Kevin Warren met for over two hours on Monday.

The conference said all students and staff will be tested within three days of a football game. That is outside the players’ request window of within 24 hours of competition.

“In making this announcement, the Conference acknowledges that there is much work to be done on our campuses, in our communities and across the country to gain control of a virus that continues to spread at an alarming rate,” the Big Ten’s statement said. “While the conference remains hopeful for a September 2020 start in all fall sports, including football, issuing a schedule does not guarantee that competition will occur. While our strategy is to continue planning for all fall sports, if the virus continues to spread among our students despite our many preventative measures, including testing and quarantine protocols, we are also prepared to delay or cancel competition pursuant to local and state public health orders or the recommendations of our medical experts.”

In addition to announcing its medical protocols for fall sports, the Big Ten also announced its schedule for football teams. The conference is tentatively planning to start the football season on Sept. 5 with 10 games for each team. Teams were cleared to begin practice on Friday in preparation for the season.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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