Recently, over a dozen football players in the Pac-12 decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season. The Pac-12 -- like the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten -- has already announced it intends to honor the scholarships of athletes who opt out for safety concerns.
The ACC recently announced it will let the schools decide, and 13 out of the 15 schools in the conference have already committed to honoring scholarships of student athletes. Though this clears up one major concern for student athletes who choose to opt out of playing the 2020 season due to health and safety concerns, a new issue has arisen that might not be as easy to solve.
A large segment of Pac-12 players started a movement on social media using the hashtag #WeAreUnited with a list of demands. The players are threatening to opt out of the season if they do not receive the requested changes, both to the current safety measures being taken and to the business structure of college football.
At its core, the requests are focused on safety protocols and procedures to reduce the players’ risk of potentially contracting COVID-19. However, the requests also include that the commissioner of the Pac-12, Mr. Larry Scott (who is paid $5.3 million per year), and other coaches and administrators reduce their pay and that athletes are offered six-year scholarships, increased medical insurance coverage, a commitment to the reduction of the amount of money spent on athletic facilities, the freedom to hire marketing agents, and a revenue split similar to how professional leagues share revenue. The split calls for 50 percent of the conference revenue for each college sport to be distributed evenly among athletes in that particular sport.
The use of this hashtag has already had a significant impact on at least one major program. Washington State University coach Nick Rolovich and athletic director Pat Chung have been accused of cutting players for sharing the #WeAreUnited message on social media. Washington wide receiver Ty Jones made the initial allegation about Washington State releasing players.
Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods was the first to be released, and after Jones’s allegation was disputed, Woods’s parents took to social media to declare that their son had in fact been cut for sharing the hashtag and that multiple players had been cut from the team for the same reason.
Coach Rolovich allegedly told several other players they were cut as well and had them clean their lockers out. The players who shared the hashtag in addition to Woods were defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs, defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle, defensive back Pat Nunn and offensive lineman Syr Riley. These players are still on the official roster, but multiple accusations have corroborated the report that the players had been cut.
Washington State will reportedly still honor the scholarships of Woods and other players that were cut for supporting the movement. However, it remains to be seen how coaches cutting players for supporting the #WeAreUnited movement will affect the status of athletic scholarships at other programs and whether or not schools even have the ability to revoke scholarships.
The revocation of a scholarship in this situation would be based off the student athlete associating with a movement the school and head coach deems unfavorable. There are major issues with using an athlete’s personal beliefs and social media postings to rescind their scholarships, though it is not completely unprecedented.
Recently, Marquette rescinded both the admission and the athletic scholarship of a high school senior for posting a racist comment on social media. Programs, if they choose to rescind scholarships for players who are cut for social media postings, can use this and other previous scholarship revocations as examples to justify their actions (though none of the prior examples are necessarily a case in point to this issue).
It will be interesting to watch the student athletes in the rest of the conferences navigate the current social climate and whether they will join the Pac-12 in demanding change. Ignoring the requests of the players will turn out poorly for college football; without the participation of the athletes, there is no product to sell.
It would behoove the Pac-12 to compose a compromise with the players before too much animosity is created by the current divide between players and administrators. Other conferences would be wise to use the Pac-12’s current dilemma as a warning and should get ahead of the curve by negotiating their own compromises with players before they start making monumental requests as well.
Justin is a second-year law student at Florida State University College of Law and a Co-Founder of SSLN.
 Luke Decock, Most, if not all, ACC schools will honor scholarships for opt-out athletes, TheNews&Observer (July 31, 2020), https://www.newsobserver.com/sports/article244634197.html.
 Billy Witz, A Group of Pac-12 Football Players Threaten to Opt Out of the Season, The New York Times (August 2, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/sports/ncaafootball/coronavirus-college-football-pac-12.html.
 Dan Lyons, Parents Of Pac-12 WR Say Their Son Has Been Cut By Program, CollegeSpun (August 2, 2020), https://thespun.com/pac-12/washington-state/pac-12-football-boycott-washington-state-players-cut-we-are-united-message-kassidy-woods.
 Joe Werkmeister, Riverhead senior’s college admission, athletic scholarship rescinded after racist social media post, Riverhead News-Review (June 2, 2020), https://riverheadnewsreview.timesreview.com/2020/06/100617/riverhead-seniors-college-admission-athletic-scholarship-rescinded-after-racist-social-media-post/.