Big Ten football players express 'unity demands' for season in The Players' Tribune

Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

CHICAGO — Three days after Pac-12 football players listed “unity demands” and threatened a boycott, Big Ten players have expressed their own desires in a Players’ Tribune piece.

The group College Athlete Unity says it represents “the concerns of over 1,000 Big Ten football players” and “we support the right of all athletes to stand up and speak out.”

The “Big Ten Unity Proposal” is a far lighter version of what Pac-12 players are demanding, which includes a 50% revenue share and an end to “racial injustice.”

The Big Ten players are not threatening a boycott and their demands focus on “protecting the well-being of all athletes.”

The piece was published within hours of the Big Ten releasing both its 2020 schedule and its medical protocols, which include a minimum of two COVID-19 tests per week.

That’s twice the number required by the NCAA but well short of what the NFL is planning — daily testing for the first two weeks of training camp, followed by every-other-day testing if a team’s positivity rate is below 5%.

The Big Ten players’ proposal calls for three tests per week in-season, banning the use of COVID-19 liability waivers and an automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses a competition because of a positive test or mandatory quarantine.

In terms of finances, the group asks for “reimbursements for stipends that were reduced during the summer” and complimentary access to the Big Ten Network for athletes’ family members.

The Big Ten has yet to respond with a statement, but Commissioner Kevin Warren might be disheartened by a line in the piece: “Given that the NCAA and conference leadership have not asked for our input …”

Warren told the Chicago Tribune that on Monday he connected with 28 student-athletes from all 14 schools — one football player, one non-football fall sport athlete, to discuss the safety protocols. The video call lasted two and a half hours and “as I told them, that will not be the last call; it will be the first of many.”

From his first day as commissioner in June 2019, Warren has made it a goal to seek input from Big Ten student-athletes and to “empower them.”

He met many students during a tour of campuses and formed an Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition that includes athletes such as Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner, who has opted out of the 2020 season, citing COVID-related health concerns. The group also created a voter registration initiative.

Asked specifically about the Pac-12 players’ movement during an interview with the Tribune on Tuesday, Warren replied: “The voice of the student-athlete is important. We’re continually building that relationship and embracing the player voice in working through these complex issues.”

Warren is also a football dad. His son Powers is a fourth-year tight end at Mississippi State.

“I’ve learned so much,” Warren said, “from listening to him.”

An email to the College Athlete Unity group seeking an interview with a Big Ten player was not immediately returned.

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