The Pac-12 football season -- a fraught, historic football season -- is scheduled to begin Monday with enhanced workouts ahead of the official start of training camp on Aug. 17, ahead of a Sept. 26 kickoff of a 10-game, conference-only regular season.
But on Sunday that season became more of a question mark than it already was.
A group of Pac-12 football players released an official boycott statement Sunday morning through The Players' Tribune.
The letter is unsigned, attributed solely to "Players of the Pac-12," but reporting by ESPN indicated that group is hundreds deep. (Update: A separate press release carried the names of a dozen players from nine schools. It's unclear how many of their teammates co-signed on the effort.) It begins with a series of statements explaining why the group is making this stand, and why they're doing it now. Here are a few of them.
Because NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically, and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes, #WeAreUnited.
In rejecting the NCAA’s claim that #BlackLivesMatter while also systematically exploiting Black athletes nationwide, #WeAreUnited.
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.
It then delves into the group's "Unity Demands." "Due to COVID-19 and other serious concerns, we will opt-out of Pac-12 fall camp and game participation unless the following demands are guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons," the letter reads.
The group is seeking protection and acknowledgment on four fronts:
1. Health & Safety Protections. This would allow all players to opt out of the upcoming season without losing their scholarship or a year of eligibility, prohibiting and/or waiving any liability waivers put forth by the school, and a player-approved third party oversight group to oversee COVID-19 protocols.
This should be an easy demand for the Pac-12 to meet and, indeed, much of this has already been guaranteed by the NCAA and/or the conference, or easily will be.
2. Protect All Sports. "Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay," this section begins. The group also wants to end all performance and academic bonuses, and it demands that Stanford use its $27 billion endowment to reinstate the sports it cut earlier this summer.
According to their own words, this group of Pac-12 players is prepared to cancel the season if each school does not rip up employment contracts for dozens of coaches and administrators across the conference. What, exactly, defines "excessive" pay? The letter doesn't say.
3. End Racial Injustice in College Sports "and Society." This section asks the conference to form various task forces and panels to discuss and address outstanding racial issues within college athletics and society at large. It also seeks to devote 2 percent of conference revenues to "low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus."
4. Economic Freedom and Equity. This section seeks to extend the college scholarship from four years to six, to guarantee coverage of sports-related medical expenses for six years after their eligibility expires... and to guarantee athletes the right to market their name, image and likeness rights.
This, of course, is an issue the NCAA could have solved years ago but has instead dragged its feet to the point where it's now asking for a Congressional bailout. A similar issue: the players want a 1-time transfer waiver, something the NCAA has also promised to change but has dragged its feet in actually accomplishing. The group also wants the ability to return to college within seven days of going unselected in a professional draft.
The players also want revenue distribution similar to an NFL or NBA collective bargaining agreement: "Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports."
Some of these issues seem like easy fixes, were already agreed upon by the conference, or were on their way to becoming so. Others seem like non-starters. (For instance, are Pac-12 football players really going to cancel the football season if Stanford doesn't bring back men's and women's fencing?)
All of this seems difficult to negotiate two weeks before training camp is set to begin, and one day before OTAs are set to start.
Which, of course, is entirely the point.
Update> For the 2018-19 fiscal year the Pac-12 reported over $250 million in television rights fees (over and above the fees generated by the Pac-12 network). Additionally, the conference received nearly $115 million for Post Season Bowls. Basketball and other sports certainly factored into the $250+ million the conference received for TV rights; but football is unquestionably driving that ship. Based on these numbers it is safe to say football brought in at least $300 million of revenue to the Conference. Thus, the players are demanding they be paid at least $150 million.