As college sports leaders worked to figure out how to play football through the pandemic, former NFL star Chris Hinton and wife Mya noticed something was missing when they watched and read news coverage. It was obvious to the parents of two Division I players.
“It’s all the coaches are saying this. The administrators are saying that. And the NCAA is saying this and you didn’t hear anything from players or parents," said Chris Hinton, the former Pro Bowl offensive lineman who helped started Football Parents 24/7. "So in two months now you have parents speaking up as a unified group and you have players speaking up as a unified group. So that’s a lot of progress in the last two months.”
Less than a month before the scheduled start of a season already scrambled by the pandemic, the Pac-12 football players who started the #WeAreUnited movement had their first meeting with conference leadership this week. As they did so, the wealthiest conferences continued to outline plans to play and protect thier athletes while most schools in the second tier of Division I football have given up on a fall season.
Announcements by the Big Sky and Pioneer conferences all but ended any chance of Championship Subdivision playoffs with more than half the 127 FCS schools now indicating they will not play fall sports.
“In the last few days we realized we couldn't safely pull of football the way we wanted it to be, and so that's why we made the difficult decision to say we're not going to play football this fall and look to the spring," Big Sky Conference Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said Friday.
The schools at the highest level of college football are still making an uneasy march toward a season of uncertainty. One that has prompted players to question whether their best interests are the top priority.
Neither of the Hintons' sons — Stanford offensive lineman Myles Hinton and Michigan defensive lineman Chris Hinton Jr. — has been actively participating in the player movements in the Pac-12 or Big Ten that are demanding more accountability and oversight of healthy and safety guidelines related to COVID-19. The Hintons say they are proud of the players who are involved and believe college football is better for it.
"I think coaches have enjoyed the luxury of basically having silent parents, silent players," Chris Hinton said.
“And one thing we found in this group, there’s a fear factor among players and parents to speak out for fear of retaliation from coaches and universities," Mya Hinton added. "I think there’s this blanket of fear over the majority of the parent player group.”
Twelve members of the Pac-12 players group met with Commissioner Larry Scott for two hours on a call Thursday night, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private and the league had no official comment.
The players have demanded the Pac-12 address a list of concerns about COVID-19 protocols, plus racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for the athletes. They have threatened to opt out of practices and games if their demands are not addressed.
The Pac-12 players’ financial demands include sharing 50% of revenue each sport makes with the players and reducing the salary of Scott and other administrators. It was made clear to the players on the call the conference will not support any proposals that turned the athletes into employees, the person said.
The Pac-12 also told the players they could expect to get an update next week on medical protocols and whether athletes could be permitted to retain eligibility if they opt out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns, the person told the AP.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West became the latest conference to have its players take a public stand of unity, echoing the Pac-12 and Big Ten groups in asking for assurances about COVID-19 protocols and testing, along with eligibility and scholarship retention.
Earlier this week, the NCAA said schools would be required to keep on scholarship any athlete opting out of this season because of concerns about COVID-19. No decision has been made on whether those athletes will be allowed to retain their eligibility, but the NCAA said it wanted a plan from each of its three divisions by Aug. 14.
At least 24 players have already opted out of the coming season, with some stars saying goodbye to college football for good.
The Hintons' sons are looking forward to playing, and mom and dad are feeling better about it these days. They praised their sons' schools for creating cultures of compliance.
But they still hear from parents in their group — especially those playing at programs not as well-funded as Michigan and Stanford who worry about the care their sons are receiving.
“Well, I think what we’re seeing is the haves and the have-nots,” Chris Hinton said. “There is still some some grumbling, there’s still some concerns. But you’re seeing a lot of the Power Five schools that have the wherewithal that their (players') parents are becoming more comfortable with moving forward.”
The Big Ten this week said it expects to test players twice per week, at least, during competition. On Friday, the Southeastern Conference announced a similar plan and said it was working to implement a third weekly test on game day with rapid results.
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