On Tuesday, the entire University of Southern California (USC) football team sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, urging him to allow them to play this season as other college conference holdouts announced they were returning to play this year.
“We want to play”
In the letter posted to Twitter by USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, the USC players accused the state of having too many restrictions preventing them from playing, despite the NCAA Division I football season having already started with no major COVID-19 outbreaks or known transmissions.
Dear @GavinNewsom ,
Please let us play. We want a chance
— Amon-Ra (@amonra_stbrown) September 15, 2020
“The reason we are writing this appeal directly to you is that the state of California and its legislators have been the staunchest advocates for student-athlete rights,” began the letter “Over the last few months, athletics departments across the country have started listening to the voices of their student-athletes. It is a credit to your leadership that the state of California has been listening to our voices for years, and we are counting on you to hear us now: we want to play.
“The current reality is that there are too many restrictions imposed by state and local public health officials in California that prevent us from returning to practiced and competitions.”
The players even pointed out the stringent measures and rapid testing the University has deployed, which has gone above and beyond other teams already playing.
“Daily Antigen testing with a turnaround time of less than one hour reduces COVID-19 infectiousness by 100%, continued the letter. “With the Pac-12’s commitment to daily testing … and the continued dedication to comprehensive health and safety protocols locally on our campus, we feel comfortable proceeding with the season. We are fortunate to receive a level of care from our school that achieves the highest standard in sports.”
NFL dreams, health needs, potential billions on the line
The letter was sent that the same day that the only other premier college football division, the Big 10, announced that they would be returning in October. The decision left the Pac-12 without a season as many Western Governors, including Governor Newsom, continue to push for advanced COVID-19 measures.
“Scholarships aren’t on the line, but NFL dreams sure are,” explained college football scout Joey Warner to the Globe. “The Pac-12 in the last major holdout. And if the players don’t play this year, the players looking to get into the NFL draft in the next few years are going to miss vital tape of their play and a critical season for NFL teams to look at. It’s hard enough with high school closures disrupting us from looking at them for prospective colleges. These players careers and livelihoods are now on the line.
“These athletes care about COVID-19 and not infecting others. But with these universities putting all the proper pieces into place, and the state still not allowing them to go on, you can see their frustration. They want to play to compete and go for their dream of the NFL. Plus fans want them back in action. But right now, that’s not happening, and they’re doing everything they can, including writing the Governor, to play this year so they don’t fall behind everyone else.”
“Colleges are antsy too. The NCAA brings in billions each year combined for schools in straight revenue. And these programs aren’t cheap, so they need to play to at least get money back from TV contracts and partial admission. Some have already preemptively cut some athletics because of budget issues. In some cases, they may be fighting to actually keep their team.”
Health experts have remained divided on what danger COVID-19 presents to NCAA players. The Pac-12 has specifically cited cardiac risks associated with COVID-19 as a major factor in not playing this year. However, the Big 10 also cited that last month and still chose to start play soon regardless.
“People are reaching different conclusions,” added Warner. “This is just adding confusion over the risk here. We’ll know for sure in a few weeks if cases among players and even fans being allowed in jumps up. But the question now is where that line of risk stands.”
An urgent plea from USC players
For the USC players, they not only feel that enough precautions have taken place on campus, but that they can also form some sort of agreement or arrangement to play.
“Governor Newsom, our request of you is that you work with us to find a path forward to resume competitions later this fall so that we can have the same opportunity as other teams around the country to play for a national championship,” said the players in the letter. “We have the utmost confidence that we can partner together to quickly develop a plan that allows us to compete in a 2020 football season. Please let us play.
“As California goes, so too does the Pac-12 Conference,” the letter states. “You can be the champion for the conference of champions and, most importantly, its student-athletes. We believe that if the state of California endorses our season, the conference, other states, respective county and public health officials, and university leaders will follow.”