Football players from around the Mountain West joined together Thursday evening in a letter to the conference to voice concerns over playing a fall football season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, which was shared on social media by several players in the Mountain West including Boise State safety Tyreque Jones, announced the formation of ‘Mountain West United’ while asking for assurances in regards to player safety, future eligibility and scholarships related to the modified 2020 fall football season.
“We, the athletes, do not feel safe enough participating in this upcoming season without reform,” the letter said. “There is too much ambiguity surrounding the state of affairs in this country to demand competition as we know it. These last four months have altered the lives of not just Americans, but the human race. We have families and children just like any fan, coach, citizen or worker. The virus is real and rampant in this country.”
The move comes after players from the Pac-12 and Big Ten wrote similar letters in recent days. But while the group from the Pac-12 included name, image and likeness opportunities and 50 percent of league revenues in their demands, the letter to the Mountain West appears to be much more reasonable.
Among the items Mountain West players are requesting:
• Athletes that decide not to play this fall due to COVID-19 concerns will receive an extra year of eligibility regardless of where they sit on the traditional five-year clock.
• Athletes who contract COVID-19 during the season and miss more than 30 percent of competition will get an extra year of eligibility, regardless of their five-year clock.
• If more than 50 percent of the season gets canceled, all players get another year of eligibility.
• Preserve scholarship benefits and a roster spot for athletes granted an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
• Ban and void all COVID-19 liability waivers, while also ensuring coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 incurred by athletes for five years after exhaustion of eligibility.
• Whistleblower protection for athletes and staff who report suspected violations of COVID-19 safety protocols.
The letter also makes several requests related to COVID-19 testing and safety protocols, but many of them are similar to guidelines the NCAA has already proposed.
The group also appears to be concerned with the travel associated with playing a season.
“Although the coaching staffs of the Mountain West have taken commendable steps to revolutionize the way we train and grow, we do not feel comfortable playing teams from other states,” the letter states. “It is difficult to believe that hundreds of 17- to 22-year-old college students are capable of social-distancing effectively enough to travel state-to-state for 10 weeks.
“This is evident in the reports released by several schools that have had an increase in cases of COVID-19 following return to OTA-style workouts.”
Jones, a redshirt junior from San Bernardino, California, posted the letter to his Twitter account Thursday evening with a message that said, “I’m standing with the rest of my brothers across the MW Conference.”
Several other Boise State players followed in sharing the letter including cornerback Jalen Walker and quarterback Chase Cord.
The Mountain West issued a response to the letter later Thursday night that said “nearly all of the issues which have been raised are already being addressed.”
The league went on to say “the Mountain West’s revised fall sports plan will align with the requirements set forth by the NCAA Board of Governors. In addition, the MW continues to develop comprehensive testing and reporting procedures ....”
The Mountain West statement added, “additional clarity will be provided via upcoming decisions of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on August 14 and August 21, as well as on-going efforts by multiple groups within the Mountain West governance structure. The Mountain West and its member institutions value the input of our most important constituents, our student-athletes, and look forward to continued communication with our long-standing MW Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.”
It's unclear if the players would be willing to boycott the season should all the demands not be met, or if the league plans to meet with representatives for the group like the Pac-12 did during a Zoom call on Thursday.
The Mountain West announced on Wednesday that the football season, which was originally scheduled to start Sept. 5, would be condensed from 12 to 10 games and be delayed three weeks to the weekend of Sept. 26.
The Broncos were slated to open fall camp Friday, but they moved back the start of practices to August 21 after Wednesday’s announcement.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin hasn’t talked with the media since a Zoom video press conference on May 21, while players were last made available to local reporters on April 24. The Broncos have been on campus since voluntary workouts began on June 1, and have gradually increased football-related activities since July 6.