Email letters exchanged Friday between leaders from the Pac-12 #WeAreUnited unity group and conference commissioner Larry Scott show a stark divide regarding how the parties felt Thursday's initial meeting went in regard to the student group's concerns about the conference's return-to-play policies related to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We were all left disappointed and deeply concerned that you are not taking this matter seriously," a letter to Scott sent late Friday, signed by 18 student-athletes, said.
One of the primary points of contention was related to what constitutes "regular testing" for COVID-19. While the player group asked for daily testing and a consistent conference-wide testing policy, Scott informed them that neither was possible, according to the players' letter, which said, "You [Scott] claimed necessary tests were 'unavailable' and that it would be 'impossible' to mandate testing and best practice COVID precautions conference wide."
In Scott's letter to the player group, which was sent Friday afternoon, before he received the players' letter, he said questions about testing protocols would be addressed with the conference's medical advisory committee and he would provide answers "in the very near future." A second meeting has not been scheduled but is expected to take place next week.
A conference source took issue with the players' characterization that Scott and the Pac-12 are not taking the player-health issues raised by the players seriously, calling it "patently false," citing the conference's medical advisory committee that includes leading public health and infectious disease specialists, which formed guidelines that apply to every school in the conference. The source said all Pac-12 schools have committed to following the Pac-12 medical advisory's guidelines, along with those implemented by the NCAA and local public health requirements.
A request from ESPN for official comment from the Pac-12 was not granted.
"We love the communities we compete for. But, we are afraid of the potential ramifications of athletes playing sports before it is adequately safe enough to do so," the players' letter said. "That is why during our meeting with you yesterday, Oregon Safety Jevon Holland explains, 'Our deepest fear is the Pac-12's negligent return to play may result in a member of our Pac-12 family dying due to COVID-19.'"
A player from the Pac-12 unity group told ESPN that during Thursday's call Scott referred to the group's Players Tribune article published Sunday, which outlined demands related to health and safety, racial injustices and economic issues, as a "PR stunt," and he thought Scott was dismissive of the group's motives. "Eighteen sets of ears heard him say that," the player said.
"Your response to our concerns 'If you feel unsafe, just opt out and go home' is not an acceptable answer and proves there are severe inconsistencies in the Pac-12's standards and its commitment to protecting college athletes under its watch," the players' letter said.
It was communicated to Scott during the call, and in the follow-up letter, that documents effectively functioning as liability waivers have been distributed at multiple Pac-12 schools. In response, Scott has given the group assurances those documents are not enforceable.
"Although we've received assurances from our institutions that student-athletes have not been asked to review and sign waivers pertaining to COVID-19 related issues as a condition of athletics participation, the conference office is fully committed to reviewing this issue with each institution to ensure that such waivers have not been administered," Scott said in his letter. "If the conference office discovers that an institution has issued a waiver of this nature to student-athletes, it will work closely with said institution to confirm that such a document is unenforceable per the recent directive of the NCAA Board of Governors."
Scott also explained that students who opt out of participating in athletics this fall will retain their eligibility and remain in good standing with their team.
"We encourage each student-athlete that is contemplating this choice to reach out to their respective athletics administration, including directors of athletics, in order to discuss the relevant institutional policies in place for student-athletes who opt out of participation in fall 2020 due to concerns related to COVID-19," Scott said.
The players' group expressed a desire for legal representation to be present during future calls between them and Scott, but Scott made it clear to the players that if they brought lawyers into the equation, they would be communicating with lawyers from the Pac-12.
In the players' list of demands published Sunday, they asked the conference to direct "50% of each sport's total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports," and while the economic component was briefly discussed in Thursday's call, it was not a priority for the students and deemed a non-starter by Scott.
"If this is about creating generational wealth," Scott told the players, according to multiple sources, "you are wasting your time."
ESPN producer David Lubbers contributed to this story.