What Pac-12 players’ boycott could mean for Louisville football

What could come of PAC-12 demands and what it means for Louisville football.

A coalition of players from the Pac-12 conference schools have banded together to voice their opinions on safety during the pandemic, concerns for their well-being, and racial injustices. In doing so, they have compiled a list of demands, including opting out of all of this season’s functions altogether. This comes just days before the Louisville football program kicked off fall camp, and a little over a month before the expected start of the season across the country.

This list also includes demands that the conference provides a safe environment to play in, ensuring sports can happen by cutting pay to coaches and administration, along with guaranteed six-year scholarships, health insurance, and immediate player compensation via revenue sharing with the schools.

However, the central issue is focused on counteracting racial injustices. Here’s just a small snippet from the article written by the Pac-12 Players for the Players Tribune, titled “#WeAreUnited.”

“To ensure future generations of college athletes will be treated fairly, #WeAreUnited.

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.

Because we must have adequate COVID testing to help protect our health, #WeAreUnited.

Because we are prohibited from securing representation while being asked to sign documents that may serve as liability waivers, #WeAreUnited.

Because we should not be stuck with sports-related medical expenses, including COVID-19 related expenses, #WeAreUnited.”

According to ESPN.com, the group mentioned in a text message that their goal is to “obtain a written contract with the Pac-12 that legally ensures we are offered the following protections and benefits.” The Pac-12 Conference has not directly heard from the group.

With all things to be considered, a couple aspects of the players’ demands that have and always will make total sense are combatting racial injustice and player compensation, especially during a time when COVID-19 is running rampant through the United States making a college football season even more dangerous.

College football is a sports market driven primarily by black college student athletes. It’s a proverbial money tree for administrators, executives, and sponsorships, not to mention incentives for the schools, conferences, and coaches involved.

It should be in every school’s interest to see those primary demands through. I mean, where would any major sport be without the black community?

Nine of the last 15 Heisman Trophy winners were black players. It’s an ever-evolving trend in America’s most popular sport. Yet the lingering, glaring question remains: what is the sport itself doing to remain loyal to the community keeping it afloat?

The list of demands made by the group of Pac-12 players is a great way to break the ice.

How could this affect current and future Louisville football players?

When parents take their children to visit colleges, one constant remains the same; the peace of mind about the would-be environment surrounding their offspring.

See, most parents pay a lot of dough in college tuition. Only some students actually receive full-ride scholarships. For student-athletes, a full-ride scholarship takes care of the tuition, boarding, etc., but it does not account for their contributions to the school’s or the conference’s revenue.

Now, if you ask some parents of college student-athletes, their reply’s foundation is built on gratitude for their child’s journey. Louisville football quarterback Micale Cunningham’s father told me during a one-on-one,

“Coach P (Bobby Petrino) asked me when we committed if I have any questions because he doesn’t discuss playing time. I said “as long as he (Micale Cunningham) gets a helmet we have no more questions.”

Although the gratitude will be apparent no matter what the student-athlete’s situation is, for many parents, I assume financial compensation for their kids would be great relief factor in their collegiate process.

While securing a six-year scholarship program might still be a rocky road, I believe what the group of players in the Pac-12 have done is somewhat groundbreaking. The bulk of the demands, if met, would fast-track college football’s already progressive-minded approach to supporting players both civilly and financially.

As for the safety of the players heading into a season in which everything else in the year has been plagued by COVID-19, the answer that lies within is slightly interwoven into the demand for player compensation.

There might not be as much push back if the players were afforded financial support by schools or the league, but safety protocols for all sporting events are slowly coming into their own as we enter uncharted waters of 2020 COVID-19 sports. Nonetheless, one has to assume that a little extra cash for their hours of dedication to the program would take the edge off.

Instead, players are being asked to “go to work” in less than ideal situations where proper protocol isn’t being followed, leading to small outbreaks and putting players health at risk. Sure, some programs, like Louisville, are doing the right thing and taking care of their athletes and making sure everyone is safe. However, a quick google search will bring up countless articles of players and coaches speaking out about the concerns around their program and leadership not taking the pandemic seriously.

I’m not saying a paid player is quicker to ignore safe practices and habits amidst the ins and outs of a football season, but one can only assume that an adequate bank roll could help in easing the tension on the extremity of that issue.

Just ask the parent of a player that’s getting paid to play.

“He (Mekhi Becton) takes his precautionary measures. I also think the NFL will do right by them and make sure they are safe,” Semone Becton (Mekhi Becton’s mother) said.

But that’s the NFL. That’s totally different.

I know. I know. And I may be overshooting with that quote tied into this content, but Mekhi is still her boy. The circumstances are very similar in that regard. Besides, money talks.

You can bet your bottom dollar that Louisville football head coach Scott Satterfield and his staff are talking with their players about what is happening out west and how they can use their platform to speak and call for change. While that may not look like encouraging players to opt out in order to send a message, my guess is the players are being made aware of their options, what they can do to cause positive change, and do so in a positive manner.

If anything, the players now see that they have the power when it comes to college sports; at least to some extent. Calling for a 50 percent revenue share and cut in coaches salaries across the board, is probably very unlikely, but you can bet that the players have the attention of executives and people in leadership who thought they’d never be put on the spot like this. That means something.

The landscape of college sports is changing, and it’s changing fast. Players using their power to stop the free labor system the NCAA has deployed for so long is exactly what the future of empowerment needs for athletes.

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Now, it’s the Pac-12’s turn to respond and act. In my opinion, the demands made by that union of players is more or less a challenge rather than a pounding of a fist; a challenge to do the next right things.

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