Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), speaks during a brief press availability on Capitol Hill Dec. 17, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) met with Emmert to discuss compensation for collegiate athletes. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Football

NCAA: Athletes who opt out because of COVID will have their scholarships protected

Posted August 5th, 2020

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Conference and school administrators, already fed up with what they perceive as a lack of leadership from the NCAA, received guidance Wednesday that established protocols for a safe return to play and guidelines that protect athletes’ scholarship should they opt out.

Most athletic directors around the nation were waiting on the NCAA to make a decision about fall championship events like volleyball and soccer. The NCAA told its members that championships at all levels must be determined by each division no later than Aug. 21.

The NCAA has little control over FBS-level football teams like Texas or the Big 12 and none over the College Football Playoff. But the NCAA has full control over FCS schools and the lower-level football championship.

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As for Division I events, the NCAA may collapse the field of entrants for its championships and possibly go to single-site events.

“The board expressed serious concerns about the continuing high levels of COVID-19 infection in many parts of the nation,” NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote in an email obtained by the American-Statesman. “The board has determined that it will only support moving forward with fall championships and other postseason play if strict conditions are applied and adhered to.”

The NCAA issued a three-page document to its members and created a public website about safe return-to-play protocols.

“All member schools must adhere to federal, state and local guidelines related to COVID-19,” the document states. The NCAA says its guidelines are not meant to be an “absolute fail-safe document” since some areas have more infections than others.

The NCAA also informed its members the association will establish a phone line “to allow college athletes, parents or others to report alleged failures” about COVID-19 protocols. The NBA created something similar, mockingly dubbed the “snitch line,” for players in the Orlando bubble.

“The Association will notify school and conference administrators, who will be expected to take immediate action,” the NCAA’s email to members said.

Also, any athlete that chooses to opt out of the upcoming season because of coronavirus concerns, their scholarship “must be honored by the college or university.”

Responding to reports of schools forcing athletes to sign liability waivers, the NCAA took a firm stand. “Member schools may not require student-athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation,” the letter said.

Orangebloods reported Wednesday that Texas running back Daniel Young has not participated in summer workouts and may opt out because of the coronavirus. At Texas and most Power Five schools, all athletes are guaranteed to have their tuition, books, room and board pay for regardless of whether they play sports — provided they stay on track to graduate.

“Member schools, in conjunction with existing insurance standards, must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for college athletes and their families,” the NCAA told members.

The NCAA has gotten blowback both internally and from national media outlets for taking somewhat of a backseat approach to COVID-19 guidance. Just Wednesday, news broke of allegations that Colorado State officials were ignoring coronavirus protections.

It’s unclear what kind of penalties the NCAA could implement, if any, should schools not adhere to their protocols.

“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” Emmert said in his letter to members. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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