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Pac-12 football players urge opt-out amid COVID-19 concerns

This Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 file photo shows the Pac-12 logo during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Arizona State and Kent State, in Tempe, Ariz.
This Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 file photo shows the Pac-12 logo during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Arizona State and Kent State, in Tempe, Ariz.(AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)
Published: Aug. 2, 2020 at 10:49 AM MDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2020 at 12:03 PM MDT
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(AP) – A group of Pac-12 football players on Sunday threatened to opt out of the coming season unless their concerns about competing during the COVID-19 pandemic and other racial and economic issues in college sports are addressed.

The players posted a statement on The Players’ Tribune website and social media with the hashtag #WeAreUnited and sent out a news release. The release listed the names of 12 Pac-12 players from nine schools, including Oregon star safety Jevon Holland, and provided a statement from each one.

The release says hundreds of players throughout the Pac-12 are concerned about the risks of COVID-19 and that the conference and NCAA lack transparency, uniformity and adequate enforcement infrastructure.

The public demands from the Pac-12 players follow a surge in acts of athlete empowerment across college football. Players have called out coaches at Iowa, Oklahoma State and Florida State. At Iowa, a longtime, highly regarded strength and conditioning coach parted ways with the school after complaints from players past and present about a lack of respect for Black players in the program.

Players have led demonstrations, marches and rallies on campuses all over the country to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

Now, as college sports leaders work to salvage a football season being threatened by the pandemic, players are speaking up again.

"We believe a football season under these conditions would be reckless and put us at needless risk," the players said in their news release. "We will not play until there is real change that is acceptable to us."

The Pac-12 on Friday released a revised football schedule for the coming season. The new schedule pushes the start of the season back three weeks to Sept. 26 and includes only 10 conference games. Officials across college football anticipate disruptions this season related to COVID-19. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference also announced plans last week for truncated seasons.

The NCAA has released guidelines for COVID-19 testing and other health and safety protocols to be used by schools. The Power Five conferences — the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and SEC — are finalizing their own version of COVID-19 guidelines, similar to the NCAA's.

The Pac-12 also announced Friday that 20 hours per week of mandatory team activities for football, including weight training, meetings and unpadded walk-through practices, will be permitted to begin Monday. Preseason football practice for Pac-12 schools may begin Aug. 17.

The states of Arizona and California, home to half the Pac-12 schools, have been hit by some of the most severe surges in COVID-19 cases over the last month. California-Berkeley has announced the fall semester will begin with all classes being taught online. USC said most of its classes will be online for the coming semester.

"Since the system is willing to risk our health and safety in the midst of the global pandemic, we must look out for each other," Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant said in a statement. "With so much uncertainty around COVID, we cannot wait until it strikes the world of college football. We must act now to ensure our safety playing the game we all love, and that is why we are united."

Pac-12 spokesman Andrew Walker directed requests for comment from the conference to a statement released Saturday.

"Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics," the Pac-12 said. "We support our student-athletes using their voices, and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics."

The players' list of demands addresses healthy and safety protections related to COVID-19; protection for all college sports programs from being eliminated by budget cuts; racial injustice in college sports; and economic rights and compensation for college athletes.

"This is important to me because I want to see the young men that are being exploited by the PAC12 & NCAA have the right to earn money for their families," Holland said in a statement. "I want the safety of my peers lives to be placed higher than the sport they play. If we are treated like employees then we should be compensated as such."

Among the specifics are:

— Player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party selected by players to address COVID-19 and serious injury, abuse and death.

— 50% of a sport's revenue distributed evenly to athletes.

— Medical insurance for six years after college.

— Reduced pay of Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, coaches, administrators.

— 2% of revenue to support financial aid for low-income Black students and community initiatives.

— Use university endowment funds to protect all college sports. As an example, the players cite Stanford's recent announcement that it will discontinue 11 varsity sports while the school has an $27 billion endowment.

The other players listed were:

Treyjohn Butler of Stanford; Jake Curhan, Joshua Drayden and Valentino Daltoso of California; Elisha Guidry of UCLA; Malik Hausman of Arizona; Dallas Hobbs of Washington State; Ty Jones and Joe Tryon of Washington and Cody Shear of Arizona State.

The group said it was united in forming alliances with athletes from other conferences.

"#WeAreUnited in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes," it said. "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."

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