Pac-12 football players released a statement on The Player’s Tribune earlier today listing out demands for addressing racial injustice and health and safety concerns. If these demands are not met, a large group of players is threatening to opt-out of the upcoming football season. I took a look at the list of demands and there is a lot to like here. For a sport without much of a plan to keep COVID-19 at bay, the players have largely done an excellent job in outlining exactly what needs to happen for them to play with a pandemic raging in the world around them. The maturity of these athletes and the critical thought that is evident in these proposals is extremely impressive. Let’s break down each of the requests.
Before I do though, I just want to get out ahead of this: I want nothing more than for there to be football in the fall. However, it’s completely irresponsible to pretend that nothing is wrong, and be pressing unpaid athletes to put themselves at risk with little to no concern for their safety. Clay Travis will continue to move the goalposts and pretend that the thousands upon thousands of deaths aren’t a big deal, but they are. These players understand that and want to make sure the conference and member institutions are taking this seriously as well, among other worthy causes.
I. Health & Safety Protections
- Allow option not to play during the pandemic without losing athletics eligibility or spot on our team’s roster.
- Prohibit/void COVID-19 agreements that waive liability.
Mandatory Safety Standards, Including COVID-19 Measures
- Player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party selected by players to address COVID-19, as well as serious injury, abuse and death.
This is the most pressing issue, given the state of the country. Athletes are little more than financial pawns for schools, and the global pandemic has only highlighted that more. Many campuses are exclusively doing online classes, so asking football players to come to campus for camp and to play the actual season is an admission that they are more than just typical students–who deserve much more from schools than what they get.
These health requests are incredibly reasonable. Players should not have to worry about losing anything or being punished if they opt-out of the upcoming season for perfectly valid health concerns. Schools have also been pushing liability waivers onto football players while prohibiting them from securing representation–which is patently ridiculous. You cannot push players to put themselves at risk only to try to distance yourself from the whole situation and assume no liability.
There is very little transparency to players of confirmed cases and the risk they are actually being exposed to. Coming up with uniform health and safety standards goes a long way in establishing trust and gives schools credibility when they claim that player safety is their top priority. Administrators and coaches who have a problem with any of these demands are in effect telling on themselves about how little they actually value each athlete.
II. Protect All Sports
Preserve All Existing Sports by Eliminating Excessive Expenditures
- Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay.
- End performance/academic bonuses.
- End lavish facility expenditures and use some endowment funds to preserve all sports.
Coaches and administrators making a small fortune while the group doing the bulk of the labor goes unpaid has long been an issue. There is not a head football coach out there that is struggling to put food on the table, and small personal concessions can again go a long way in rebuilding trust with players. Actions speak much, much louder than empty platitudes.
The last point here is one I hadn’t initially considered, but it is entirely fair. COVID-19 has gutted numerous non-revenue programs within athletic departments across the country–and a big part of that is the fact that schools put their money in the wrong places. The original post notes Stanford as an example. The Cardinal recently cut 11 varsity sports programs, but have an endowment of $27.7 BILLION. There is definitely some money that can be moved around to avoid pulling the rug out from under hundreds of athletes.
To me, this also becomes a perfect argument for paying players. Universities love to cry poor whenever the issue of paying players is brought up, pointing to their annual budgets and how a lot of times they end up operating at a deficit. There is simply no money that could be used to pay players in the first place, they’ll claim. But it’s hard to take that seriously when we see all the ridiculous athletic facilities that keep popping up across the country–as schools compete in an arms race to see who can have the coolest “Cribs”-style walkthrough on social media. One of the things we talked about with Jared Thomas on The B-Fox and B-Frank Show was Northwestern’s shiny new football facility. It is state of the art, picturesque, and right on Lake Michigan–it is truly impressive and I’d imagine helps with recruiting immensely. But the total project cost for the new fieldhouse and athletic center was a whopping $270 million–I’d be willing to bet that athletes would be more than happy with something a little less lavish if it means they get to be fairly compensated. In a lot of ways, this struggle is very similar to the hip, fun sales job people take right out of college at one of those companies that exclusively targets recent college grads–where they are overworked and severely underpaid. In both situations, schools and employers point to non-monetary things to distract from the larger issue at hand.
“You get all meals taken care of daily!”
“Please pay us.”
“You get access to a state-of-the-art gym!”
“Please pay us.”
“We have a ping pong table!”
“Please, for the love of God, pay us.”
III. End Racial Injustice in College Sports and Society
- Form a permanent civic-engagement task force made up of our leaders, experts of our choice, and university and conference administrators to address outstanding issues such as racial injustice in college sports and in society.
- In partnership with the Pac-12, 2% of conference revenue would be directed by players to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.
- Form annual Pac-12 Black College Athlete Summit with guaranteed representation of at least three athletes of our choice from every school.
This is a no-brainer. The NCAA is largely built upon the exploitation of black athletes, so people in power saying “Black Lives Matter” is little more than lip service. As Iowa and several other programs have shown us this summer, real change is needed and it is needed now. The players obviously need to have the leading voice in this, and I really like the idea of the Black College Athlete Summit. If this is taken seriously by the powers that be and real change is sparked, it will provide a phenomenal example for conferences across the country to follow.
IV. Economic Freedom and Equity
Guaranteed Medical Expense Coverage
- Medical insurance selected by players for sports-related medical conditions, including COVID- 19 illness, to cover six years after college athletics eligibility ends.
Name, Image, and Likeness Rights & Representation
- The freedom to secure representation, receive basic necessities from any third party, and earn money for use of our name, image, and likeness rights.
Fair Market Pay, Rights, & Freedoms
- Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports.
- Six-year athletic scholarships to foster undergraduate and graduate degree completion.
- Elimination of all policies and practices restricting or deterring our freedom of speech, our ability to fully participate in charitable work, and our freedom to participate in campus activities outside of mandatory athletics participation.
- Ability of players of all sports to transfer one time without punishment, and additionally in cases of abuse or serious negligence.
- Ability to complete eligibility after participating in a pro draft if player goes undrafted and foregoes professional participation within seven days of the draft.
- Due process rights
This of course includes the most challenging demand in the entire list. Most of these are basic rights that I have supported for a very long time. Medical insurance, making money off NIL, freedom of speech, and due process rights are such basic requests that it’s a little absurd that we need to have this conversation in the first place.
As B Frank and I have discussed on the show, we are very much in favor of the one-time transfer rule. Coaches do it without consequence all the time, there is zero reason to hold athletes to a different standard.
The tough ask here is the 50% split of revenue–this will receive the biggest pushback from the conference and its individual schools. But this is outstanding to see football players looking out for all of their fellow student athletes as far as compensation is concerned. Being a collegiate athlete is akin to having two full time jobs, and they 1000% deserve to get some of the revenue that they are helping bring in to their respective schools.
Unfortunately, there have already been negative repercussions for this list of player demands. New Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich has released several players associated with the movement from the team. This is behavior that, again, makes the athletes look like the adults in this situation:
— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) August 2, 2020
If I’m a potential recruit there is zero chance I would ever consider Washington State. When your players are asking for basic rights and your response is to act like a petulant child–you cannot claim to have their best interests at heart.
I’m thrilled that these players have inserted themselves into a conversation that typically would exclude them, and I’m hopeful that this helps bring about some major changes. There will be pushback, as Rolovich has already shown, but the players are in the right and the Pac-12 is now going to be forced to pay attention. One of the best ways to bring about change is to hit the powers that be in their wallets. The Pac-12 is desperate for football revenue, the players know this, and picked a perfect time to roll out this list of demands. The players presented a well thought out, reasonable list, and how the conference responds will be very telling. They can play ball and make some sweeping changes, or they can do nothing and continue to try to exploit student-athletes at every turn. The ball is now in their court, and I hope they do the right thing.