On Tuesday, a group of Californian Pac-12 football players and officials from Governor Gavin Newsom’s office met to discuss what the state is doing for players during the COVID-19 pandemic and what the Governor could possibly do to protect them during this time so they remain healthy and don’t face repercussions against not playing in the upcoming season.
A call for an Executive Order from Governor Newsom
The football players were all part of the #WeAreUnited movement, a players group that has demanded more protections for players, more health protections from COVID-19, and to expand rights for NCAA players. The Pac-12 #WeAreUnited players hope to join peers from the Big 10 conference who have been making similar demands in Midwestern states.
During the meeting with officials from Governor Newsom’s office, the players asked for the Governor to issue an Executive Order for third party oversight at every California Pac-12 school to make sure that all safety standards are being met, as well as protecting the eligibility of all players who decide to opt out this season for health reasons.
Players had began threatening to opt out of the season on Sunday, not wanting to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 by playing on a team sport. They cited high levels of cases among NBA and MLB players, along with unclear COVID-19 rules in many conferences, as reasons to skip the 2020 season.
While the Pac-12 has said that athletes opting out for COVID-19 related reasons will remain on scholarship, they have yet to confirm that players will keep that year of eligibility open. If players don’t remain eligible, they could risk losing an additional season of play, potentially preventing them from being drafted by an NFL team in the future.
“We really want to be able to move a little faster in getting heath guidelines out there for us,” said California offensive lineman Valentino Daltoso on Tuesday. “The eligibility piece is huge for us. If you were to opt out without eligibility guarantees you could be effectively ending your eligibility. The governor’s office can help us with that.”
“The season is creeping up on us and we have no answers,” added Stanford receiver Elijah Higgins.
With COVID-19 concerns rising, an Executive Order becomes one of the last timely routes for athletes this season
Others in college athletics noted that Governor Newsom is one of the few individuals who can help meet NCAA player demands despite the possible political fallout associated with a lost season.
“They wouldn’t have asked for an Executive Order unless they were down to one of their last rungs,” noted physical therapist James Morgan to the California Globe. Morgan works with many collegiate athletes during non-season months, including many affiliated with #WeAreUnited movement. “They don’t want to risk contracting COVID-19, and they don’t want to lose a season in the future because they were looking out for their health.”
“If you get injured, it’s not optional that you lose a season. That’s understandable. But this is, and they’re concerned and quite frankly confused that the NCAA isn’t looking after the health and safety of their athletes.”
However, for both colleges in California and elsewhere around the United States, this all could become a moot point soon. On Wednesday, the University of Connecticut Huskies became the first major NCAA football team to cancel their season, with others expected to follow suit. The NCAA itself is currently mulling over whether to continue on with the season or not, repeatedly updated COVID-19 standards for players when they return.
“In order to ensure the health and well being of college athletes, we have to consider all the implications when determining our next steps, and we plan to provide an update to our membership and the public,” explained NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement on Tuesday.
For now though, the season is still set for colleges in California, and besides direct NCAA action, the Governor issuing an Executive Order is the only timely solution left outside a mass walkout.
“You have to hand it to these kids. They’re fighting for what they think is right, and they’re doing it in a very mature way,” added Morgan. “They’re laying out their point in a logical way and they’ve found a way for their demands to be met before the season starts.”
“California, along with Connecticut, could lead the way for schools across the nation on this. COVID-19 is a serious issue.”