A group of Pac-12 football players from various schools threatens to leave the fields and pre-season games until their negotiations with the league over concerns about racial injustice, their safety during the coronavirus pandemic and other demands are completed.
A text message obtained by ESPN says that the group's goal is "to obtain a written contract with Pac-12 that legally guarantees that we receive the following protections and benefits".
The group's list of demands, according to the text message, includes safe play in the midst of the pandemic, combating racial injustice, guaranteeing economic rights and fair compensation, protecting all sports and obtaining long-term health insurance .
People familiar with the group's mission told ESPN that the central issue they want to address with the league and its schools is racial injustice.
The players plan to make a public "declaration of unity" and a list of their demands since Sunday, through traditional and social media.
Pac-12 said in a statement on Saturday that it had not yet heard from the group.
"Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments were contacted by this group on these topics," said a statement from Pac-12. "We support our student-athletes using their voice and maintain regular communications with our student-athletes at several different levels on various topics. As we have clearly stated with respect to our autumn competition plans, we are and always will be, Managed by specialist doctors, with the health, safety and well-being of our athletes, coaches and employees, always the first priority. We make it clear that any athlete who chooses not to return to the competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected ".
Ramogi Huma, founder and president of the College Athletes Players Association, is helping players organize a possible boycott, sources told ESPN. Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, has been an advocate for the rights of college athletes.
A Pac-12 football program official told ESPN that the move is "real" and potentially involves hundreds of players.
A UCLA player contacted by ESPN said the Bruins team leaders planned to meet and discuss the possible boycott on Saturday.
A person familiar with the Pac-12 campaign said players from Cal, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA and other schools are involved. The person said that at least some of the league coaches were aware of the possible boycott and independently assessed the involvement of their teams, which varies from campus to campus.
Among the concerns of the players, they are being taken back to campus for training and games when several Pac-12 schools, including Cal, UCLA and USC, told most, if not all, of the student body to stay home and take classes online this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. Stanford is bringing only half of its students back to campus for the fall quarter.
On Friday, Pac-12 approved an autumn schedule of just 10 football games that is scheduled to start on 26 September. Each team will play five games at home and five on the road, and the Pac-12 championship is scheduled for no earlier than December 18th or 19th. The conference title game will be played on campus and not at the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas, as previously planned.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott admitted that "it may not be possible" to play up to a 10-game schedule by December 19 – or that spring may be necessary to end it.
"The same can happen in other markets," said Scott. "… We recognize that the best plans may not materialize, and may start [Sept.] 26, play a complement to a minimum number of games that we think would be necessary for a College Football Playoff, and we can start, but we cannot finish, and then we will have to adjust ".
Half of the league's schools – Arizona, Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA and USC – are located in states with an increasing number of coronavirus cases.
"We realize at the moment that these are real access points and the necessary authorities and approvals are not yet there," said Scott.
With its start of the season delayed, the Pac-12 plans to enter the "enhanced summer access" period as early as August 3rd, followed by the start of its official training camp as early as August 17th.
ESPN's Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.