In the wake of the Pac-12's decision to put all sports on hold for at least the rest of 2020, the Pac-12 #WeAreUnited unity group released a statement in which it renewed calls for the formation of a players' association for college athletes, was critical of the conference's handling of Tuesday's decision to postpone and outlined requests for athletes whose sports have been paused.
"It is obvious that the Pac-12 was woefully unprepared to protect college athlete safety in response to COVID-19 and could not address the basic and essential safety demands made by #WeAreUnited," the group said in the statement, which was critical of the conference's lack of transparency in making Tuesday's decision. "The Pac-12's failures have made it clear that the time for change is now. The system is broken. College athletes deserve and need a real voice in the form of a players association."
While the Pac-12 athletes will wait until at least January before resuming competitive activities, the unity group listed three main requests for conference leadership to address: preservation of athletic eligibility, continued access to support (medical, academic, meals for those who remain on campus) and making all athletic-related activities optional until uniform health and safety standards are mandated conference-wide.
Most of what the athletes asked for has already been addressed by the Pac-12. However, it's unclear how well things have been communicated to the athletes.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said during a webinar to discuss the postponement that the conference will lobby strongly to the NCAA for athletes to keep their eligibility should the conference be unable to play a season in early 2021. After the NCAA canceled 2020 spring sports, it granted eligibility to impacted athletes, but the decision to honor that eligibility was left up to individual schools.
Medical care, academic support services and meals for athletes will continue to be provided as they would have been if there had been a fall season, a conference source confirmed to ESPN.
Although the Pac-12 has made it clear that its athletes will keep their scholarships, Scott said decisions about how to support them without competitive activities will be made on a campus-to-campus basis.
"They'll be able to continue with the 20 hours that's permissive [each week], but I think all of our campus will have to go back and look at what's in the best interest in supporting them," Scott said.
In addition to the requests, the unity group repeated its frustration with its perception of how seriously the conference has handled communication.
"Throughout our dealing with Pac-12 leadership, the rights of college athletes were not taken seriously by Conference leadership," the statement said. "When we raised concerns over the lack of enforceable health and safety mandates in the conference as a prerequisite to a season, we were met with hostility."
Asked about the interactions with the Pac-12 unity group Tuesday, Scott deferred to Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson.
"We thought it was productive. We were listening to their concerns, and so we will have follow-up conversations with them as appropriate as this whole situation evolves," Anderson said. "There have been a ton of things we have been dealing with and talking about, and we'll circle back for sure."
Also Tuesday, the Big Ten postponed all fall sports seasons, including football, amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the hopes of playing in the spring. In reaction to the news, a Big Ten player told ESPN that "we're currently processing the information and discussing what steps we will take moving forward."
ESPN's Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.