Aug 3, 2020 - Sports

Pac-12 football players threaten coronavirus opt-out

An illustration of a fist.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A group of Pac-12 football players have threatened to opt out of the season unless the conference addresses systemic inequities and concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: College football players have never had more leverage than they do right now, as the sport tries to stage a season amid the pandemic. And their willingness to use it shows we've entered a new age in college sports.

What they're saying: In a letter published by The Players' Tribune, the players demanded increased health and safety protections, a commitment to social justice and the redistribution of football revenue.

  • Health and safety: Players want COVID-19 liability waivers to be prohibited and universal safety measures. They're also seeking medical insurance for six years post-eligibility.
  • Social justice: They're demanding that the Pac-12 form a permanent, civic-engagement task force to address social injustice.
  • Revenue redistribution: Perhaps most boldly, players asked for 50% of each sport's revenue to be evenly distributed among athletes.

The big picture: When nationwide protests erupted, college athletes were not shy about using their platform to enact change, and just last week a group of SEC football players voiced concerns similar to the Pac-12 on a private call with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

  • Ultimately, the pandemic itself will likely dictate the state of the fall (or spring) football season more forcibly than administrators' decisions or the players' refusal to accept them.
  • But among those three factors, the players' initiative stands out as the most impactful regarding the future of college sports.

The bottom line: In recent months, college athletes have shown us a newfound awareness of their power. Now, as SB Nation's Steven Godfrey puts it, "they're showing us the accompanying resolve."

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