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Sunday, January 17, 2021
<p>Big Ten football players are concerned about the proximity and contact of their sport and its relationship to spread of COVID-19.</p>

Big Ten football players are concerned about the proximity and contact of their sport and its relationship to spread of COVID-19.

Big Ten players issue Big Ten Unity Proposal in response to conference’s COVID-19 protocols

This morning, the Big Ten released a ten game, conference-only schedule for the upcoming college football season. Shortly after, a post on The Players Tribune titled “#BigTenUnited” attributed to “Players of the Big Ten” was published with a proposal with some extra requirements meant to protect the well-being of athletes.

The Big Ten’s season proposal includes a 12-week window in which to play all the necessary games. Every team has a uniform bye week that allows the conference to collapse games into their bye week if a game has to be rescheduled due to COVID-19 related concerns. The season is currently set to start the weekend of Sept. 5, but the schedule allows for the season to be pushed back as far as Sept. 26 if necessary.

The Big Ten also released a list of COVID-19 testing protocols for all sports. Under the current medical protocols, football players, coaches and staff members will be tested a minimum of twice a week in-season due to its designation as a high-contact sport. As of now, the Big Ten will allow players to return to the practice field this Friday, Aug. 7.

The #BigTenUnited piece was published this morning as well in response to the schedule and COVID-19 bulletin release. It was authored by a group called College Athlete Unity (CAU) on behalf of the players of the Big Ten. 

The piece is heavily critical of the NCAA, which has provided little leadership for COVID-19 regulations and has repeatedly passed the buck to individual conferences. 

“We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by the NCAA with respect to player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the piece reads. “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 players acknowledge that they “have started a dialogue in good faith” with conference officials, but the NCAA has not followed suit.

Some points of interest in this Big Ten Unity Proposal are “sufficient penalties” for failure to comply with COVID-19 requirements; a neutral, player-approved third party to enforce regulations and control testing; whistleblower protections for players and staff who report perceived violations; and scholarship protections in the event of a cancelled season.

This proposal is similar to the PAC-12 Unity Demands, which was also published in The Players’ Tribune three days before the Big Ten’s. However, BigTenUnited only focuses on COVID-19 related issues, unlike the PAC-12’s Unity Demands. There is no language in the Big Ten players’ proposal to pay players beyond the current stipend system, reduce extravagant pay for coaches and Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, or direct conference funds towards social justice initiatives. 

The PAC-12 players’ proposal has already stirred up some controversy. Some Washington State University players who shared a “#WeAreUnited” graphic on social media were reportedly “released” from the team. Head Coach Nick Rolovich allegedly told wide receiver Kassidy Woods that involvement in the Unity group would be “an issue.” The school has denied that Woods was released from the team for involvement in the group and Rolovich has since said he regrets his language.

College football has already seen one COVID-related scandal at Colorado State University, where allegations from players and staff arose that coaches would threaten players with reduced playing time if they quarantined and altered contact tracing efforts to keep players practicing. The university has launched an investigation into these reports.

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