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USC players pen open letter asking to play football this fall

With three Power 5 conferences already playing or set to play this fall, and a fourth–the Big Ten–reportedly ready to announce its own fall plans to play, USC football players took matters into their own hands on Tuesday afternoon, writing an open letter addressed to California governor Gavin Newsom, asking to let them play football this fall.

The letter was posted to social media by a number of USC football players.

It reads, in part:

“Dear Governor Gavin Newsome,

The reason we are writing this appeal directly to you is that the state of California and its legislators have been the staunchest advocates for student-athlete rights. Over the last few months, athletics departments across the country have started listening to the voices of their student-athletes. It is a credit to your leadership that the state of California has been listening to our voices for years, and we are counting on you to hear us now: we want to play.”

The letter acknowledges the #WeAreUnited letter that was released by players from the conference previously and softens the stance of potentially sitting out the season if the requests were not met. This could be an important part of this, as a number of those requests were not realistic and likely seen as non-starters for the conference and its member institutions. Separating from that or at least certain aspects of it could have an impact in this new discussion.

USC players specifically address restrictions imposed by state and local officials that prevent them from practicing now in groups of more than 12 or indoors at all. The group also cites the released Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee findings that “daily antigen testing with a turn-around time of less than one hour reduces COVID-19 infectiousness by 100%.”

Lastly, the players ask Governor Newsom to work with them to find a way to play this fall.

“We respect the careful and cautious approach you have taken to college athletics, and we have the utmost confidence that we can partner together to quickly develop a plan that allows us to compete in a 2020 fall football season,” the letter states. “Let’s find a way to say ‘yes!’ Please let us play.”

While all coaches and players in the Pac-12 would like to participate in a fall season, this is the first time any Pac-12 entity has spoken out publicly and with one voice in this way about reversing or at least updating the conference’s decision to postpone the season until January.

The biggest hurdle the conference is facing is the ability to test frequently enough to ensure that athletics and athletes are not an aspect of Covid-19 spread on or near campus. The recently announced agreement with Quidel to provide machines that can deliver daily test results in 15 minutes seemed to shift perception within the conference, and hint that a fall season could be achievable. Still, with the machines not scheduled to arrive on campuses until later this month, with the timing required to establish protocols and regulations, and the time it would take to start ramping up practices to the point where they’d resemble a fall camp before a regular season, it is unlikely to be a situation where these provide a same-day solution where the lights of a 2020 fall season can be flipped on immediately.

Already, a season that could start in mid-October–way, way ahead of any conceivable start date for the Pac-12 at this point–would only just conclude by the mid-December date that the College Football Playoff participants are chosen. This is why starting this conversation now and attempting to get wheels moving ahead of time could be an important factor in the conference getting back onto the field. It wouldn’t be surprising to see other teams in California and Oregon come together with statements resembling this one.

USC athletics has done an admirable job in helping to keep its student-athletes from contracting the coronavirus since their return to campus. The hope from the players that they can help force movement here should be aided by the aggressive testing about to hit campuses, as well as the track record of keeping positive test rates inside the athletic program at a significantly lower rate than the surrounding community.

USC coaches, led by head coach Clay Helton, took to social media to back up their players.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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