The news hit Sunday morning, and the takes started flying immediately after. A group of Pac-12 players formally threatening to boycott the upcoming 2020 season was an atomic bomb dropped in the middle of a year that has already seen plenty of fire, and the biggest piece of news to hit in the aftermath was the allegation that Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich had cut a player from his new team.
Only, what was alleged wasn't actually true, he didn't cut the player, and we all now know this because it's right there in the transcript.
Wazzu wide receiver Kassidy Woods and his family spent Sunday engaged in a media campaign attempting to paint Woods in the best possible light and the program in the worst. We know this because Woods' mother tweeted it out on Sunday afternoon, and Woods himself recorded his phone conversation with Rolovich (without his knowledge or consent) and shared the contents with the Dallas Morning News. (Woods is from Dallas, which is why that paper got the call. The FootballScoop staff also reviewed an audio recording of the call, but that has since been deleted by whoever posted it.)
Let's review the transcript.
Woods: What’s up, coach?
Rolovich: Kass, how you doing?
Woods: I’m doing good.
Woods: I just wanted to inform you that I would be opting out of playing in the season. I just wanted to give you a heads up, so you won’t be caught blindsided by it. But the reasoning behind it is just, you know with concerns with my health. Because -- I’m pretty sure you probably don’t know, but first and foremost, I have Sickle Cell. So and like with all this COVID stuff, it affects the respiratory system. And really, we really, really don’t know much about the virus within itself. So I just don’t -- I feel like there’s not enough in place for me to be safe, you know, and for sure that I would be able to play. So that’s the main reason why I’m opting out.
Rolovich: I got nothing wrong with that. That’s why I told you guys, this shit, this part, I don’t care.
There's more here, but let's skip ahead in the conversation to the part where the Woods family came away feeling Kassidy had been cut.
Rolovich: Are you gonna go home?
Woods: No I’m not gonna go home. I was just, you know, informing you that I would be opting out for the season. I mean, I’m still gonna do workouts and stuff. It’s just, I don’t feel comfortable traveling, and doing all that.
Rolovich: Yeah, but I don’t think you’re gonna be with the team this year. You know what I’m saying?
Rolovich: I can’t -- I don’t, I don’t think that’s a good look for everybody. This guy’s still working out with us, but he’s not playing. So, um, it sends too much of a mixed message moving forward, so.
Woods: If I may ask, how does it send a mixed message?
Rolovich: Uh, because, you’re really not playing this year for the team. You know what I mean? And you have your reasons and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think you being included in everything we’re doing is gonna be, uhh, how we want to move forward. We kind of want to be one team in that. So [inaudible]. … It’ll be — we’ll have to alleviate, you’ll probably have to get your stuff out of the locker room, you know what I mean? Stuff like that. So, and you know, it adds to another — the less people we can have around the better chance we will have this season, I guess is what I’m saying. And if you’re not gonna play, then we’re gonna use the resources on the guys that are gonna play this year.
So while it's true that Woods will be apart from the team this fall, that separation came at his decision, not the team's. Rolovich confirmed at an earlier point in the conversation Woods' scholarship remains intact for this year (again, more on this later).
Think about it this way: If Woods is going to opt out due to health concerns -- as is his right, especially considering he has Sickle Cell trait -- why would he want to train, eat, dress and practice with his teammates? Statistically speaking, Woods is at a much greater chance of catching COVID-19 from a fellow Cougar than an Oregon State Beaver or a Cal Golden Bear. This seems inarguable.
Now let's get to the part that plenty of people are arguing about.
Rolovich: I got nothing wrong with that. That’s why I told you guys, this shit, this part, I don’t care. Now are you gonna be joining this PAC-12 football unity movement? Is that what it is?
Woods: Yessir, mhm.
Rolovich: OK so that’s going to be, that’s gonna be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff, cause the COVID stuff is one thing. But, um, joining this group is gonna put you on a, on a — that’s obviously, you know, you get to keep your scholarship this year, but it — it’s gonna be different. You know, if you, if you say, ‘I’m opting out ‘cause of COVID and health and safety,’ I’m good. But this group is gonna change, uh, I guess, how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school. Um, so just think about that is, if it’s about getting paid and not (inaudible) about racial justice and that stuff. Then it’s probably, it’s there’s two sides, there’s two sides here. I’m good with the Sickle Cell and the COVID, and but this, this group is gonna be at a different level as far as how we’re kind of going to move forward in the future. Does that make sense?
Woods: Yes sir.
Skipping slightly ahead.
Rolovich: OK so it’s not, you know, there’s one way we’ll handle it if it’s COVID-related. And then there’s one way we’re going to handle it if it’s joining this group. So I appreciate you letting me know. And I was going to address this tomorrow night at the Zoom.
Woods: OK I got you.
Rolovich: So, um, no I appreciate you telling me and I’ve got nothing wrong with that.
Woods: Yes sir.
In more normal times, rival recruiters might attempt to portray Rolovich's words as not supporting his players. However, this is all new and no one really knows what comes from any of this. Reading Rolovich's words, it's hard to know exactly what he's implying.
Rolovich hasn't spoken publicly since the #WeAreUnited push went public. On the recorded call with Woods, Rolovich noted that he planned to speak with the entire team today (Monday) about the #WeAreUnited movement.
Now, it's far too early to see where the #WeAreUnited push ends up. A number of Pac-12 players retweeted the image on Sunday -- including Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, the best lineman in college football -- but it remains to be seen how many are willing to join the dozen or so that signed the letter. Retweeting an image as a statement of solidarity is one thing, joining the picket line and sitting out games is another.
Many seemed to share the sentiment of Utah quarterback Jake Bentley, a transfer from South Carolina: Sharing the message in one tweet, then following that with a statement saying, I support you guys, but I'm not skipping games.
It remains to be seen where the #WeAreUnited push ends, but for now it's the biggest story in college sports. Woods, clearly, tried to get ahead of the story, and did so by recording Rolovich without his knowledge or approval.
Rolovich has an opportunity to explain his side, starting tonight with the previously scheduled Zoom call with his new team. There, we can expect Rolovich to clearly articulate his stance on both COVID-19 opt-outs and the #WeAreUnited movement, where he has a chance to turn a muddied negative into a clear positive heading into his first season with the team. We should expect to hear something publicly from Rolovich some time after that meeting.