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Group of Pac-12 players could opt out of football season over medical, social, financial concerns

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Updated - Aug. 2, 2020 at 5:42 p.m. | Posted - Aug. 2, 2020 at 10:35 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A group of Pac-12 football players formally submitted public statements Sunday saying they would take action, including potentially opting out of training camps and games this fall, if their demands for health and safety, social justice and fair compensation are not met by the conference.

The group published an op-ed in The Players’ Tribune under the headline #WeAreUnited that affirmed their demands, including health and safety protections, protection for all sports adversely impacted by the economic ramifications of the pandemic, and an “end to racial injustice in college sports and society,” and economic “freedom and equity.”

“#WeAreUnited in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes,” the joint statement reads, in part. “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”

The group includes former Provo High wide receiver Ty Jones, who will be a junior at Washington in the fall. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wide out has 38 catches for 562 yards and six touchdowns in three years for the Huskies including a four-game season in 2019 which he used as a redshirt due to injury concerns.

Jones was expected to be a key contributor to Washington’s receiving corps in 2020, along with fellow Utah County product Puka Nacua. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Orem High alum caught seven passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns a year ago as a freshman for the Huskies.

“It is imperative to ensure my teammates and fellow student-athletes a safe environment to play in,” Jones said in a news release. “This is also important to me because this will make future student-athlete’s lives easier. Student-athletes’ lives shouldn’t be put at risk in order to prevent further financial backlash — especially when receiving sufficient compensation.”

Jones and linebacker Joe Tyron are both listed as two of 12 media contacts for the initiative.

No University of Utah football players are quoted or listed as media contacts in the news release, but linebacker Devin Lloyd was among the Pac-12 players who retweeted the Players’ Tribune article Sunday morning with the hashtag #WeAreUnited, as well as a copy of the statement.

Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford said that the #WeAreUnited movement filled him with “happiness and disappointment” in a nuanced response.

“Happiness because I agree with many points in the fight for our safety and rights. Happiness to see how much support we have. Disappointment to see how much negativity is being brought to the table,” he wrote on Twitter. It brings me sadness and is very disheartening to see these negative comments.

“Would any one of you like to be talked about as an entitled piece of entertainment when standing up for the safety and health of your teammates, coaches, family, community, and let alone humanity? The amount of responses degrading the movement shows that a lot of people just think of us as entertainment on a Saturday for a couple hours. With everything that is going on in today’s society why must we produce hatred? Why not see the light at the end of the tunnel? I just want safety for me, my brothers, my brothers on other teams (yes, we don’t all hate each other 24/7) and coaches alike. We are not just a football team and entertainment. In all respect.”

Ford later added his name to the movement's petition Sunday morning, officially placing a University of Utah player on the growing list, he told The Athletic later in the day. Whether that means he will sit out the 2020 season should the players' demands not be met remains to be seen.

That's the feeling around a lot of college football, according to multiple reports. Does support for the cause translate to sitting out the season?

“None of the players truly want to sit out, and no one truly wants to have college football cancelled,” Ford told The Athletic. “That’s not the motivation for this. We do have people opting out across the country, but this, football, it’s what I’ve been working for my entire life. I’m trying to make it to the next level and make my team the best they can be this year.

“Whatever decision comes up at that time will be the one that comes up. I can’t really give a definitive answer right now on that. It’s more than just a quick yes-or-no question.”

Desert Hills product and Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell also tweeted his support. The 6-foot-6, 331-pound reigning Outland Trophy winner is considered the top offensive lineman in the nation and a top-10 NFL draft prospect.

One of just three Oregon players all-time to be a unanimous All-American, Sewell has allowed just one sack in 1,376 career snaps in a Ducks uniform.

Sewell is the perhaps the highest-profile Pac-12 player to lend his voice to the players' demands. But he's not the only top player in college football speaking up. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence retweeted Washington defensive back Elijah Molden, one of the group's student representatives, on Sunday, simply adding "really well said" in what many have assumed is a sign of support.

Among the specific demands are the following:

  • Allowing players to opt out of the 2020 season for reasons due to the pandemic, without fear of losing eligibility or a spot on a team’s roster. Many university athletic directors and coaches have said student-athletes may opt out of the season for COVID-19 concerns, but it remains unclear what that would mean for their roster spot in forthcoming seasons.
  • Prohibit or void any COVID-19 agreements that would waive liability by the team or university.
  • Medical insurance for players for sports-related conditions, including COVID-19, for up to six years after the end of a players’ eligibility.
  • Cuts to high-profile salaries such as those held by commissioner Larry Scott, administrators and coaches, and an end to performance and academic bonuses.
  • Cut “lavish” facility expenditures and use some endowment funds to preserve all sports. The group cites as an example Stanford’s cut to 11 varsity sports while maintaining a $27.7 billion endowment. The Cardinal projects to help save part of a $25 million budget shortfall with the cuts.
  • The ability to secure third-party representation and earn money for the use of name, image and likeness rights. Various NCAA and Congressional legislative proposals are currently working to secure similar NIL rights.
  • Distribution of 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue among athletes in their respective sports.
  • Six-year scholarships to encourage undergraduate and graduate degree completion.
  • A one-time transfer exemption without punishment. Similar NCAA legislation was recently stalled due to the pandemic, pushing back a one-time transfer release for all sports until at least 2021.

Pac-12 football teams open training camp Aug. 17. The league will play a conference-only schedule beginning Sept. 26, when Utah will open at Washington State.

Contributing: Josh Furlong, KSL.com

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Sean Walker

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