SEC Players Voice Concern for Health and Safety Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
This year's college football season will be vastly different than perhaps any we've seen before since World War II. While the reasoning is different, the outcome could be similar with many players expressing concern privately and sometimes publicly for their health and safety amid the coronavirus pandemic and the playing conditions they'll be under very soon.
While the SEC has delivered its path forward to the start of the season, which will not officially begin as a 10-game conference-only schedule beginning on Sept. 26, its players have voiced their worry to officials, and the Washington Post obtained audio from one of the conversations which took place Wednesday, just one day prior the SEC's decision.
The meeting which took place included "more than a dozen SEC football players, members of the conference’s medical advisory board and SEC officials, including Commissioner Greg Sankey," reported Washington Post's Robert Klemko and Emily Giambalvo.
The SEC later released a statement responding to the Washington Post's story, indicating that the players involved felt the meeting was appreciated for the honest dialogue between officials and student-athletes:
On the call, several players called out the SEC's brass, with one asking whether or not the official would allow their son or daughter to play sports under these conditions.
The issues primarily stem from the bubbleless environment the student-athletes will be - essentially -, forced to play under. They'll be interwoven with their student body that encompasses what a university is, a teaching institution.
While professional leagues can limit facilities to essential personnel, student-athletes will have to mingle with classmates, and as Mississippi State linebacker Momo Sanogo framed it, the students who come to school, for school, do not have nearly as much to lose by getting COVID-19 as the student-athletes will.
"I got four classes a week, all of them in class, all of them 2.5 hours long," Sanogo said via audio obtained by the Washington Post, "and these students don't have nothing to lose by getting COVID, they get to miss class."
While, of course, students will still have their own health to look after, Sanogo is right, if an athlete misses so many classes, gets behind schedule and he or she can't play the sport they are on scholarship to play, how will they be able to advance their careers?
These are the most important and pressing questions that need to be answered in order for student-athletes to feel safe.
Florida Gators' athletic director Scott Stricklin has repeated time and time again that his major priority was to ensure the safety of his student-athletes, and while it may not ultimately be his sole decision, the SEC as a whole has to wonder - how exactly does it happen? It appears to fall - primarily - in the hands of the students themselves.
“My advice is you’re going to have to go live your life in this environment,” the commissioner said on the conference call via the Washington Post. “I think that’s the challenge that we’re trying to meet.”
Players will have to be wary not only of their peers on the playing field, gym, or otherwise, but also within the classroom.
While the socially-distanced in-person classes that are set to take place at the University of Florida are able to provide some comfort, the test will come in just a few short weeks as the rest of the students arrive on campus while the student-athletes, particularly the football players, have been residing for months.
The SEC isn't the only conference in which student-athletes have expressed concern, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and Mark Schlabach, Pac-12 player groups have threatened to opt-out of the 2020 season, creating a list of demands for protections such as long-term medical coverage.
While the SEC student-athletes have not, publically, demanded anything or threatened to opt out, for Florida athletes if they were to decide to opt out of the 2020 season, their scholarship will remain. It remains to be seen if that is to be the case across all SEC schools or around the nation.
Players have the right to make the correct decisions for their health, as do their parents, who the Gators brass has already spoken to - at least on the football team. Questions yet remain to be answered, and they perhaps won't ever fully be, however it is clear the athletes are taking this seriously, and their voices are being heard.