By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times
A group that claims to represent “hundreds of Pac-12 football players” distributed a news release on Sunday that includes a set of demands surrounding health and safety protections; the fight against racial injustice; the preservation of all existing Pac-12 sports; extended healthcare; name, image and likeness rights; and revenue sharing within the conference.
If its demands are not met, the group — dubbed the “College Football Player Opt-Out Movement,” according to the news release — has threatened not to participate in practices or games.
Two University of Washington football players — redshirt juniors outside linebacker Joe Tryon and wide receiver Ty Jones — are listed as media contacts in the news release. Outside linebackers Sav’ell Smalls, Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Bralen Trice, defensive backs Trent McDuffie and Isaiah Strong, offensive linemen Henry Bainivalu, Nate Kalepo and Myles Murao, defensive lineman Josiah Bronson and quarterback Jaden Sheffey also posted the group’s list of demands on social media.
One Washington State player — redshirt defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs — was also listed as a media contact.
“I want to see the conference at its 100% all around the board,” Hobbs said in a statement included in the news release. “We lack enforced health and safety standards, putting ourselves and others at risk. I believe we need the basic rights and benefits that will help our future. We are all grateful for what we have but there is so much more that would create generational change.”
UW will hold a team meeting on Monday to address the Pac-12 player group’s concerns, a source confirmed to The Times.
As it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release states that “there’s not enough transparency about health risks, no uniformity to ensure we’re all safe when we play each other, and no adequate enforcement infrastructure. NCAA sports has truly failed us, it doesn’t enforce any health and safety standards. We believe a football season under these conditions would be reckless and put us at needless risk. We will not play until there is real change that is acceptable to us.”
The Pac-12 has previously promised that all athletes who choose not to play this season because of health or safety concerns will have their scholarship protected and remain in good standing with their team. Additionally, the Pac-12 player group is demanding that players be allowed to sit out without losing a year of eligibility. The group is also pushing to prohibit or void any agreement with a school that waives that school’s liability as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for specific COVID-19 prevention measures moving forward, the group demands “player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a 3rd party selected by players to address COVID-19 and serious injury, abuse and death.”
In a section of the release titled “Economic Freedom and Equity,” the group’s demands include the following:
— medical insurance selected by players for sports-related medical conditions, including COVID-19, for six years after their collegiate eligibility expires
— 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue distributed evenly among athletes in their respective sport
— the freedom to secure representation and earn compensation for use of name, image, and likeness rights
— six-year athletic scholarships to foster the completion of undergraduate and graduate degrees
— the ability to complete eligibility after participating in a professional draft if a player goes undrafted and foregoes professional participation within seven days of the draft
The press release also links to a study by former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma — currently the executive director of the National College Players Association — and Drexel University professor Ellen J. Staurowsky titled, “How the NCAA’s Empire Robs Predominantly Black Athletes of Billions in Generational Wealth.” The study estimates the “average fair market value” of a Pac-12 football player to be $274,454 per year.
“It is imperative to ensure my teammates and fellow student athletes a safe environment to play in,” UW wide receiver Ty Jones said in a statement included in the Pac-12 players group’s news release. “This is also important to me because this will make future student athlete’s lives easier. Student athlete’s lives shouldn’t be put at risk in order to prevent further financial backlash-especially when receiving insufficient compensation.”
Added Tryon, in an accompanying statement: “The current state of the world is extremely fragile. We must be able to ensure the safety of all my brothers if we are to return to the field in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We must also look into the continued exploitation of student athletes and how we do not receive fair compensation according to the amount of revenue we bring in. The line has to be drawn somewhere, it’s been too long.”
Both Jones and Tryon have yet to respond to interview requests. A UW spokesperson said that a statement from the athletic department is expected to be released on Sunday morning.
The group’s demands address the fight against racial injustice as well. Specifically, the Pac-12 players call for the formation of a “permanent civic engagement joint task force” comprising outside experts as well as university and conference leadership to address outstanding issues of racial injustice; 2% of conference revenue to be allocated to financial aid for low-income black students, community initiatives and development programs for athletes on each campus; and the development of an annual “Pac-12 Black College Athlete Summit” with representation from at least three players of their choice from each school.
It’s worth noting that the Pac-12 did recently outline a series of “initial steps” to promote social justice and combat racism. Those steps include the creation of a head of diversity and inclusion position within the conference; the formation of a social-justice and anti-racism advisory group comprised of athletics and academic leaders and athletes from all Pac-12 member institutions; and the launch of a series of athlete and coach anti-racism virtual forums.
From a football perspective, both Tryon and Jones are expected to be key contributors for the Huskies. Tryon — a 6-foot-5, 262-pound redshirt junior from Renton — led UW with 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season, while contributing 41 tackles as well. The former Hazen High School standout was named to the All-Pac-12 second team in 2019 and was dubbed a Phil Steele preseason first-team All-American this summer.
The 6-4, 210-pound Jones did not catch a pass in four games last season as he recovered from a hand/wrist injury, but led the Huskies with six touchdown receptions in 2018. The Provo, Utah, product has caught 38 passes for 562 yards and six scores in 28 career games.
On Friday, the Pac-12 Conference unveiled its retooled 10-game, conference-only 2020 schedules, with the season slated to start on Sept. 26. Mandatory activities are allowed to begin as early as Monday, and training camp can commence as early as Aug. 17 — pending the approval of public health authorities.