Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from UCF vice president and director of athletics Danny White, which was provided to Sports Illustrated after publication.
Athletes from a fourth Football Bowl Subdivision conference are on a path to joining the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mountain West in the latest player-driven movement sweeping across the college sports landscape.
A document entitled a “Proposal for Change" from “student athletes in the American Athletic Conference” was circulated to at least four schools in the league this week. It listed 10 concerns, ranging from COVID-19 safety to scholarship security to a request for “hazard pay” and 20 percent of AAC revenues.
The document, obtained by Sports Illustrated, originated at Central Florida, according to three sources. Those sources also said UCF has paused workouts in recent days, although a school source said that at least one missed workout was unrelated to player unrest. Several schools contacted by SI do not believe their players are involved in the movement. “I think this is a UCF problem and we’re getting dragged in,” one said.
“I’m confident our players are comfortable with what UCF is doing relative to their health and safety," said UCF vice president and director of athletics Danny White in a statement. "Some of their concerns, for example, revolve around what happens when they go outside their ‘bubble' on a road trip. All these questions have given us opportunities for our players to hear more details from our medical experts, coaches, and staff as we navigate this unprecedented set of circumstances. Josh Heupel and his staff, as well as our administration, are very supportive of the concerns of our student-athletes. I feel very good about our health and safety protocols.”
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told SI he had not received the proposal, and after reviewing a copy of it said that it is of “unknown provenance.” He declined further comment.
The document begins by saying athletes within the conference “are disappointed with the way the AAC and NCAA has handled COVID-19,” and alleges that there are “gaps where institutions are grossly insufficient.” The document says, “this list of the actions must take place before we are comfortable playing football, or any sport.”
The list, which bears similarities to what the Pac-12 players produced, is as follows:
1. Terminate pre-existing documents that serve as COVID liability forms and waivers.
2. Guaranteed scholarship renewal, eligibility, and spot on the team for opting out of the season protesting of current conditions (walk-ons included).
3. Guaranteed medical redshirt if a player contracts COVID during the season and misses 50 percent of competition scheduled.
4. Guaranteed medical insurance and health coverage for injuries and COVID related health issues occurred while participating in sporting activities for at least five years after your last season.
5. Mandatory week testing for all athletes on campus year-round. Testing twice a week minimum for all in-season athletes with one of the tests being the day after competition and second test 24-48 hours before competition. (All players, staff, personnel related to the football program.)
6. Transparency about the number of cases presently on the team at a time and between the teams before competition. This allows for athletes to know the risk heading into the game and the ability to refuse to play for individual games.
7. AAC makes it a standard to ensure all student-athletes have up-to-date information about the new risks that COVID-19 may pose to their personal health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities.
8. AAC makes it a standard that there are safe return to play protocols in place for student athletes who previously tested positive.
9. Hazard pay this season for all athletes. Split percentage of revenue to student athletes (doubling fo stipends). Subnote: 20 percent of total AAC revenue split evenly amongst student athletes in all sports.
10. Regulations to all workers and volunteers that will be surrounding players, i.e., flight attendants, pilots, hotel managers and workers.
The document also asked AAC schools to answer an attached survey that could “gauge how to best meet the needs of its players” in terms of compensation via Name, Image and Likeness.
Another AAC school, SMU, had a meeting with athletes Thursday night to address a list of seven concerns, according to a source. The concerns were described by the source as “very reasonable and well thought-out,” and the athletic department was open to making changes to accommodate them.
Earlier this week, the AAC released a scheduling model calling for the standard eight league games, and up to four non-conference games per team. AAC teams are in the midst of trying to fill in some of those dates after losing several games against teams from other leagues that have gone to conference-only scheduling.