In another sign of collegiate athletes, especially in the high revenue sports of football and basketball, wielding their collective power, a group of Pac-12 football players released a letter over the weekend saying that they won’t play this fall unless certain demands are met.
Among those demands are both health protections during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as Name, Image, Likeness reform, demands for social justice, and financial reform.
The letter, which is signed simply by “Pac-12 Football Players” without any names or scale of how many approved the text, utilizes the #WeAreUnited hashtag. While no names are signed to the list, some football players have identified themselves as supporting the movement on social media.
One of those players identified is Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods, who was told by his coach Nick Rolovich that associating with the Pac-12 Football Players group would create “an issue” with the program. Specifically, he was told that if he was opting out of the 2020 season because of health concerns, that he would not be allowed to continue working out with the team, though he remains on scholarship.
The program has reportedly told players that if they opt out of the season due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, they would not be allowed to workout with the team. Players who align with the #WeAreUnited movement but who have not opted out of the season are still being allowed to work out with the team.
“#WeAreUnited in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes,” the letter lists as the consequence of the conference failing to meet demands. “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 demands for financial reform are the ones that will most directly impact swimming & diving and water polo. Specifically, the players have asked that the Pac-12 Conference “preserve all existing sports by eliminating excessive expenditures.” This includes asking Stanford directly to tap into its $27.7 billion institutional endowment
From the letter:
Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay.
End performance/academic bonuses.
End lavish facility expenditures and use some endowment funds to preserve all sports.*
*As an example, Stanford University should reinstate all sports discontinued by tapping into their $27.7 billion endowment.
Larry Scott earned $5.3 million in fiscal year 2018, a year where conference revenues fell. He took a 20% pay cut for the final 3 months of fiscal year 2020 to help the conference deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pac-12 head football coaches’ salaries in 2019 ranged from $1.9 million earned by Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith up to $4.63 million earned by Washington’s Chris Petersen. Many of those coaches have taken pay cuts as part of their schools’ plans to mitigate losses from the economic impact of coronavirus.
This demand is particularly noteworthy in that football is responsible for the largest share of expenditures in most Power 5 athletics departments, and this demand implies that some players don’t see that spending as being of greatest value to them.
The letter also asks that athletes be allowed the option to “opt not to play during the pandemic without losing athletics eligibility or spot on our team’s roster,” and to prohibit or void any COVID-19 agreements that waive liability.
“Because we are being asked to play college sports in a pandemic in a system without enforced health and safety standards, and without transparency about COVID cases on our teams, the risks to ourselves, our families, and our communities, #WeAreUnited.”
Economic Benefits to Athletes
The athletes have also asked for guaranteed medical expense coverage, including for 6 years after college athletics ends; the right to secure representation to earn money and receive basic necessities for the use of their name, image, and likeness; and for the conference to distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports.
The Pac-12 reported $530.4 million in revenue for fiscal year 2019.
They’ve also requested the right for one free transfer per student-athlete, and the right to test the waters of a professional draft and return to college, and 6-year athletic scholarships to cover undergraduate and graduate degree completion.
Racial Justice Demands
Echoing an earlier letter signed by a group of University of Texas student-athletes, the Pac-12 Football Players have asked the Pac-12 to help “end racial injustice in college sports and society.”
Specifically, they want a permanent civic-engagement task force that includes student-athletes leaders and experts of the student-athletes’ choosing.
They have also asked that a further 2% of conference revenue be “directed by players to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.” That would amount to approximately $10 million per year under the current conference revenues.