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Big Ten players latest to form unity group. Here's what they're asking for

Big Ten football players are following the Pac-12's lead in forming a unity group. 

A number of athletes who are part of the advocacy group College Athlete Unity released a proposal Wednesday expressing "the concerns of over 1,000 Big Ten football players" and listing a series of COVID-19 protocols that the group wants implemented before the start of any college football season.

The proposal, announced in The Players' Tribune shortly after the Big Ten released updated schedules and testing and medical protocols for all sports, seeks to protect the health and safety of Big Ten football players in light of what the group feels has been an inadequate response from the NCAA. It also includes a series of measures aimed at providing economic support to athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"While we appreciate the Big Ten’s recently announced plan for the upcoming season, we believe that the conference’s proposal falls short in certain areas," the statement read. "Given that the players are the primary stakeholders in the business of college sports, we believe any course of action moving forward needs to include player input.

"We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by the NCAA with respect to player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 Free Press reached out to both Michigan and Michigan State on Monday about their stance on any potential unity group being formed in the Big Ten. Michigan said it could not comment on any speculative group, nor upon any "theoretical discussions with such a group." Michigan State did not directly respond to the inquiry.

Michigan cornerback Hunter Reynolds, who helped form College Athlete Unity, is listed as a media contact under the Big Ten Unity proposal, as is Minnesota's Benjamin St-Juste, who previously played at Michigan. They are the only two named players in the statement.

Headlined "Protecting the Well-Being of All Athletes," the Big Ten Unity proposal has five areas in which it makes demands: oversight and transparency; prevention and safety protocols; testing, contact tracing and related procedures; player assurances; and hazard-related economic support.

The proposal includes: 

  • A third-party that would implement COVID testing and enforce all COVID-19 health and safety standards
  • Sufficient penalties for noncompliance
  • Mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations
  • A guarantee that all college athletes have up-to-date information about the risks that COVID-19 may pose to their personal health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities
  • Adherence to World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for sporting events and compliance with all federal, state, and local statutes and regulations
  • Safety standards that are appropriate for each sport
  • 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
  • Temperature checks for anyone entering any athletic facility
  • Contact-tracing protocols for anyone who comes into contact with college athletes and team personnel who test positive
  • Testing of everyone who comes into contact with college athletes, including coaches, trainers, medical staff, nutrition staff, referees, media, etc.
  • In-season testing of all of the stated above three days per week
  • Testing twice per week with an FDA-approved test with less than 1% false negatives
  • Additionally, testing on the day of competition (or within 24 hours of competition for each team that can be quarantined) with an FDA-approved test with less than 5% false negatives, with results delivered at least two hours before competition
  • Immediate quarantine of any person who tests positive or exhibits symptoms
  • Quarantine rules for college athletes who test positive, and protocols for them to return to practice and competition
  • Objective criteria for shutting down seasons should the pandemic worsen or if teams experience significant outbreaks

Notably, the proposal asks for "whistleblower protections" for personnel and athletes who report suspected violations. It also asks for the ban of COVID-19 liability waivers, which some schools (such as Ohio State) have implemented this offseason, and an automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses any competition due to a positive test or must quarantine due to contact tracing.

The proposal also asks that programs "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."

The players also hope to obtain several forms of hazard-related economic support: 

The proposal comes days after players from the Pac-12 wrote a similar letter in The Players' Tribune, threatening to sit out the season unless the conference agreed to their demands for fair treatment, COVID-19 protocols and racial justice. 

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