Big Ten football players unite, call for better COVID-19 protocols

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Hours after the Big Ten released its football schedule for the 2020 season, a group of players urged the NCAA to devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players instead of leaving it up to each conference.

College Athlete Unity — a group created by Michigan’s Hunter Reynolds and Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste, a former Wolverine, that says it represents over 1,000 Big Ten football players as well as student-athletes in 23 different varsity sports at schools in every major conference, as well as across every NCAA division, the NAIA, and U Sport (Canada) — posted its message on The Players' Tribune.

Big Ten football players followed the Pac-12 and formed a unity group to address safety concerns over COVID-19.

The group chastised the NCAA for is lack of leadership and failing to take player input while providing a list “common sense” proposals, many of which were spelled out by the Big Ten on Wednesday. It also said it has begun dialogue with the Big Ten and hopes the NCAA will follow suit, adding that with the season quickly approaching that time is of the essence.

“We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by the NCAA with respect to player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the post read. “We believe that the NCAA must — on its own and through collaboration with the conference — devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season.

“The NCAA — which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement — has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing. Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”

More: New national group of college athletes aims to use 'voice for positive,' enact social change

The announcement from the Big Ten group comes just days after players from the Pac-12 threatened to opt out of fall camp and game participation unless their demands for fair treatment, safety regulations and concerns over racial justice for college athletes are met by the conference.

The Big Ten players’ demands differed from that of the Pac-12 as it focused primarily on safety and testing protocols relative to COVID-19.

Among the Big Ten group's proposal:

►Third-party, approved by players, to administer COVID testing and to enforce all COVID-19 health and safety standards.

►Sufficient penalties for noncompliance.

►Mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations.

►Social distancing requirements and mandatory mask-wearing in and around athletic facilities by coaches, staff, players, vendors, press, and visitors.

►Minimum cleaning and sanitation protocols for all uniforms, equipment, and athletic facilities, including visitor locker rooms.

►Testing of everyone who comes into contact with college athletes, including coaches, trainers, medical staff, nutrition staff, referees, media, etc.

►In-season testing three days per week, including on day of competition with results delivered at least two hours before a game.

►Whistleblower protections for athletics personnel and college athletes reporting a suspected violation.

►Ban the use of COVID-19 liability waivers.

►Automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses any competitions due to a positive test or a mandatory quarantine due to contact tracing.

►Preserve athletic eligibility, scholarship, and roster spot for any player who opts out of athletic participation or is unable to play more than 40% of their scheduled season due to COVID-19 or season postponement/cancellation.

►Coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 (both short-term and long-term) incurred by active college athletes.

As part of its schedule release, the Big Ten also added a five-page summary of protocols established by the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases in collaboration with the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee in an effort to mitigate risk.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau