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WSU football players among those threatening Pac-12 boycott of fall sports

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List of demands covers health, compensation, and justice.

Washington State v Arizona State
WSU defensive tackle Dallas Hobbs is listed as a media contact for #WeAreUnited, a group of Pac-12 athletes threatening to sit out the 2020 fall season if demands are not met.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At least five Washington State Cougars football players appear to have signed on to a list of demands by Pac-12 athletes that come with a threatened boycott of the 2020 fall sports season if not met.

WSU defensive tackle Dallas Hobbs is listed as a media contact in the news release sent out by the group, which says it represents “hundreds” of athletes in the conference. Additionally, the following players have tweeted out support for #WeAreUnited:

  • Defensive tackle Lamonte McDougle
  • Defensive back Patrick Nunn
  • Wide receiver Kassidy Woods
  • Offensive lineman Syr Riley
  • Soccer player Mykiaa Minniss

(There might be more — let us know in the comments if you see one.)

“I want to see the conference at its 100% all around the board,” Hobbs said in a news release by the players. “We lack enforced health and safety standards, putting ourselves and others at risk. I believe we need the basic right and benefits that will help our future. We are grateful for what we have but there is so much more that would create generational change.”

The highest profile athletes listed as media contacts are Oregon’s Jevon Holland and Washington’s Joe Tryon.

The list of 17 demands — which is titled “Pac-12 Football Unity Demands: To Protect and Benefit Both Scholarship and Walk-On Athletes” — primarily deals with health security, compensation, and justice.

Many of the demands are easily implementable by the conference immediately, such as the health and safety demands that lead off the list:

  • “Allow option not to play during the pandemic without losing athletics eligibility or spot on our team’s roster.”
  • “Prohibit/void COVID-19 agreements that waive liability.”
  • “Player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party selected by players to address COVID-19, as well as serious injury, abuse and death.”

Other demands, however, are going to require a much more protracted battle, such as this one:

  • “Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports.”

Colleges have fought tooth-and-nail against any measure that would walk back the carefully crafted economic model that has allowed so many people other than the athletes to profit handsomely. (The latest example: The NCAA’s pie-in-the-sky legislation proposal on name, image, and likeness.) They will certainly fight tooth-and-nail against this one.

That said, there’s probably never been a time in the history of college athletics when the institutions have had less leverage in their relationship with their labor. Historically, schools have held all the power over athletes — make a fuss, get your scholarship pulled. (There are a gazillion examples, but here’s a good one that seems timely.) Colleges have invested a good amount of resources into keeping any kind of athlete organizing at bay, often through minor acts of appeasement, but mostly through fear of retribution that can scuttle a player’s already brief playing career.

But COVID has placed colleges in a precarious financial position, and they are desperate to try and have a fall football season so they can at least collect those (probably still reduced) TV paychecks to offset all those expenses to which they’re already committed. The players appear to be acutely aware of this, understanding that football players going on strike is the university’s worst-case financial scenario. If you followed the short Chuba Hubbard/Mike Gundy saga, it became super obvious how scary it is to them that players would withhold their labor — and now the players know it, too.

In addition to the change in leverage, the pressing issue of COVID safety also has given athletes a common issue to rally around — the virus even unified the notoriously fractured NFLPA — which opened the door for the potential for college athletes to negotiate legacy workplace conditions which have long tilted far in favor of management.

This will sound somewhat crude, but it’s true: From a negotiation standpoint, this is brilliant timing. Football practices for the conference-only schedule that was released on Friday start in just a few weeks.

Many fans will dismiss the financial portions of the proposal out of hand, saying things like “well, the NCAA won’t allow the Pac-12 to do that” and “most athletics departments are barely scraping by, financially, and there’s just no money for that.”

Perhaps you would consider keeping the following things in mind as you thoughtfully consider each of the items on the list:

  • These demands almost certainly have been thought about much more deeply by these players and the people advising them than they have by you and me.
  • There is lots and lots and LOTS of money to meet the players’ demands. PLENTY OF MONEY. When you believe “everyone is broke,” you do so because you choose to side with the NCAA’s propaganda. WSU is the “poorest” athletics department in the Power 5, and it brought in nearly $72 million in revenue in fiscal year 2019. That’s a lot of money! Schools have made a conscious choice over the last 100+ years to spend the vast majority of their revenues on not-players, which has allowed them to maintain their non-profit status while also enriching coaches and administrators. That schools have made this choice for over a century is, frankly, not the players’ problem. For example, of WSU’s $76 million in expenses in 2019, only 15% was spent on direct athlete compensation (scholarship costs). The other $65 million was spent on everything else, including $28 million what was classified as coaching/staff. Schools can choose to spend their money differently in the future — if they want to. (They really, really don’t want to.)
  • The NCAA is its member schools. If the conferences want to make a change, changes will get made. The Power 5 has a tremendous amount of autonomy — I mean, the NCAA itself calls them “the autonomy group”! The schools make the rules, and then they charge the NCAA with enforcing them. When schools and conferences say things like “that’s against NCAA rules” as an excuse for not doing something, that’s misinformation. The NCAA is not in charge. (As should be very, very obvious based on the fragmented, conference-by-conference response to COVID.) The rules can change very quickly when the schools want them to.
  • Blaming Title IX is another copout. No, really.

What’s most interesting to me is what happens when the COVID demands are met, since those are fairly easy conditions to change, and they’re the unifying force for the players. Will their effort to organize break apart at that point? Will they then be appeased by promises by the schools to try and do better on the other 14 items?

My other question: How far will the schools’ union-busting efforts go?

With that, here’s the list of demands.


Pac-12 Football Unity Demands

To Protect and Benefit Both Scholarship and Walk-On Athletes

I. Health & Safety Protections

COVID-19 Protections

  1. Allow option not to play during the pandemic without losing athletics eligibility or spot on our team’s roster.
  2. Prohibit/void COVID-19 agreements that waive liability.

Mandatory Safety Standards, Including COVID-19 Measures

  1. Player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party selected by players to address COVID-19, as well as serious injury, abuse and death.

II. Protect All Sports

Preserve All Existing Sports by Eliminating Excessive Expenditures

  1. Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay.
  2. End performance/academic bonuses.
  3. 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.

III. End Racial Injustice in College Sports and Society

  1. Form a permanent civic-engagement task force made up of our leaders, experts of our choice, and university and conference administrators to address outstanding issues such as racial injustice in college sports and in society.
  2. In partnership with the Pac-12, 2% of conference revenue would be directed by players to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.
  3. Form annual Pac-12 Black College Athlete Summit with guaranteed representation of at least three athletes of our choice from every school.

IV. Economic Freedom and Equity

Guaranteed Medical Expense Coverage

  1. Medical insurance selected by players for sports-related medical conditions, including COVID- 19 illness, to cover six years after college athletics eligibility ends.

Name, Image, and Likeness Rights & Representation

  1. The freedom to secure representation, receive basic necessities from any third party, and earn money for use of our name, image, and likeness rights.

Fair Market Pay, Rights, & Freedoms

  1. Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports.
  2. Six-year athletic scholarships to foster undergraduate and graduate degree completion.
  3. Elimination of all policies and practices restricting or deterring our freedom of speech, our ability to fully participate in charitable work, and our freedom to participate in campus activities outside of mandatory athletics participation.
  4. Ability of players of all sports to transfer one time without punishment, and additionally in cases of abuse or serious negligence.
  5. Ability to complete eligibility after participating in a pro draft if player goes undrafted and foregoes professional participation within seven days of the draft.
  6. Due process rights