Where Is This Pac 12 Protest Really Going?

On the heels of Power 5 conferences starting to announce revamped schedules for the college football season, Pac 12 players put new flies in the ointment Sunday. They released a memo, with no specific names signed, with a list of demands before they begin suiting up to play any 2020 season. But where is this Pac 12 protest really going?

The memo was published under The Players’ Tribune site. It was entitled #WeAreUnited and had a list of allegedly unaddressed concerns.

Where Is This Pac 12 Protest Really Going?

The national response in favor of the players, and from those opposed to their movement have both been wildly over the top.

It is easier to dismiss the anti-movement portion of the crowd first. The players are on scholarship. They are getting a free ride through college with all expenses paid and living a life others can only long for. If they are unhappy, they can leave and someone else will take their place.

First of all, anyone who has put a scholarship athlete through college knows very well it is not a free ride. There is a financial gap between what the school covers and what the costs are. Some schools have attempted to close the gap in the cost of attendance. Others have not. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the revenue produced by the football, and basketball, programs from these players is massively in excess of what the school spends on them and their scholarships. It is not a balanced relationship.

Players’ Revolution?

The other side touted this as a players’ revolution, long overdue. The problem is revolutions need more than one purpose, (money in this case). America’s founding fathers had a laundry list of grievances. So did these college football players. The problem is, they do not seem to be clear that most of them have already been addressed.

It also included aspects they are never likely to get. Not insignificantly, the “revolution” did not include conference-wide uniformity. There is no clear indication that there were player signators from USC and Colorado. And without a list of achievable bargaining items where does this conversation even go?

The players are being guided by former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma. He heads the College Athletes Players Association which advocates for increased rights for college athletes. He was instrumental in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA and EA Sports. That brought the college sports world to the current Name/Image/Likeness conversation. The players will soon be able to profit off their name and brand, the same as any other person.

Demands Already Answered

The Pac 12 held a media conference Friday. It announced the new, reformatted scheduled for the shortened season, the COVID medical protocols each team must follow, and details regarding those who do not wish to play this season.

So that segues to the players’ list of demands, (in our order):

  1. “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.” The conference has already issued a 100+ page document detailing all testing, contact tracing, isolation for players who test positive, treatments, etc.
  2. “Because we must have adequate COVID testing to help protect our health, #WeAreUnited.” Unless the conference medical team is being untruthful, and it has yet to be proven that they are, the players will have more tests and faster turnaround on results than the general public at large.
  3. “Because we are prohibited from securing representation while being asked to sign documents that may serve as liability waivers, #WeAreUnited.” There were schools around the country that initiated the idea of having players signing liability waivers that would hold the school blameless for any virus infection. But there was no evidence any were in the Pac 12 and all reportedly dropped the plan once it became clear it was a legal quagmire that the schools could not win.
  4. “Because we should not be stuck with sports-related medical expenses, including COVID-19 related expenses, #WeAreUnited.” It is already the rule of the college sports landscape that any injury/ailment occurred during the carrying out of the athletic endeavor is covered by the school’s insurance policy. There has been no indication from any Pac 12 school that they will exclude COVID issues from that. In fact, Dr. Doug Auckerman said in the Pac 12 presentation last week that the schools would be ordering all tests and follow-ups. There is no sense they are not picking up the tab.
  5. “Because any player who does not feel comfortable playing this season should be free to opt out without losing their scholarship or any eligibility, #WeAreUnited.” Stanford head coach David Shaw made it clear in the Pac 12 presentations that the schools intend to keep players on scholarship even if they opted out for the year due to COVID concerns. Sunday, Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods did that. There are conflicting reports as to the response from head coach Nick Rolovich. But the school issued a statement that he would retain his scholarship.
  6. “Because immoral rules would punish us for receiving basic necessities or compensation for the use of our names, images and likenesses, while many of us and our families are suffering economically from the COVID-19 fallout, #WeAreUnited.” Half-Check. This is already being dealt with by state legislatures, the NCAA, and Congress, and you know that. It has been in all the headlines. But it is not going to get resolved by the end of August in any capacity, so why is it on your to-do list?
  7. “Because eliminating lavish salaries and facility expenditures to preserve all sports must be prioritized, #WeAreUnited.” You are looking out for your athletic brothers and sisters in non-revenue sports. The money from football and basketball pays for those sports and you are contending that if schools cut back on some other extravagances like salaries for your own football coaches, it will help.
  8. “Because we should be included in equitably sharing the revenue our talents generate, especially in a pandemic, #WeAreUnited. We get it, and you just eliminated #7 from your own wish list. You are already getting most everything on the wish list, except this revenue sharing, so at the end of the day, it is about the money.

Less Money, Mo Problems

Here is where the grand plan starts to unravel. Have whatever argument you want as to whether the players deserve to be compensated for their football activities. Trying to make that stand right now may feel like they are properly using their leverage. But asking institutions to share in their financial woes hardly seems like smart planning.

Athletic departments like Ohio State, Alabama, UCLA, Louisville, and Oregon already were underwater in the 2018-2019 academic year. Many more were merely breaking even. Were they spending too much on contract buyouts and salaries? Sure. But that’s not relevant here.

Over the next many months, or longer, colleges across the country are going to take a financial thrashing. There will be little to no housing revenue due to the COVID adjustments. Revenue will be down with fewer students on campus spending money. Donations will be harder to come by.  And then we get to sports. Big money games like Oregon-Ohio State, USC-Alabama, and USC-Notre Dame are gone from the Pac 12 schedules. The conference is going to a 10-game schedule to try to outrun the impact of the virus. And it is unlikely there will be any stadium filled with fans in any game this season, if the season can even make it through 10 games. Pac 12 schools are already losing tens of millions in tv revenue, game day revenue and everyday campus life. And you want a cut of those losses? Really?

Where Is Everyone?

The initiative is bold. Speaking up for players’ right at a time when society is more “woke” is generally a smart thing. But the schools are already hemorrhaging. Non-revenue sports are already at risk. Thousands of people across the country are in jeopardy of losing their access to college. High school athletes thought playing tennis or soccer would help for college. They are now seeing a grim reality before them. And you are asking for revenue sharing AND saving those other sports? If you get revenue sharing, there is not enough left to save the non-revenue sports. You can have #7 on the above list or #8. You can’t have them both.

Bold initiatives also require large scale mobilization. Our messages with folks in the ACC show there is little appetite for shutting down the season on their end. There seems to be some individual players who will sit out, but not the mass movement you are trying to make out West. Some of your own marquee players are voicing support while saying they will not sit out. Or they agree with some but not all of your demands.

Now we have potential division within the players, among the teams, and across the conference. All because you asked for a bunch of things, most of which you already have. Where are you really going with this?