SALT LAKE CITY — Hours before the Big Ten officially announced Wednesday morning it would begin its college football season in October, players from around the Pac-12 expressed their desire to play this fall.
That included Utah quarterback Jake Bentley.
The graduate transfer from South Carolina responded to a letter shared on social media from USC players addressed to California Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for clearance to resume football activities.
“This expresses how all of feel as Pac-12 athletes. We want to play and we know it starts from the top. Please come together to implement new standards that allow everyone to play the game that we love,” Bentley wrote on Twitter, while tagging governors from each state that contains a Pac-12 institution, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
“I realize some states may be more strict than others at this time, but we must all create ways to get us back on the field doing what we love. #WeWantToPlay,” Bentley continued.
With the Big Ten set to start its 2020 season the weekend of Oct. 23-24, the Pac-12 is the lone Power Five conference not playing football this fall. The Pac-12 announced Aug. 12 that it would postpone all league play until the end of the 2020 calendar year, due to health concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Pac-12 shared a statement from league commissioner Larry Scott that updated the conference’s progress on returning to practice in the states of California and Oregon.
“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor (Kate) Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing,” Scott said in the statement. “We appreciate Governor Newsom’s and Governor Brown’s support, the former of which is consistent with the very productive conversation that he and I had earlier today.
“Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”
The letter from USC players indicated the student-athletes’ desire to resume activities, after watching other colleges begin their football seasons in recent weeks and seeing the NFL kick off its season. The players praised the efforts of local officials, including Newsom, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and for their support in the Pac-12’s player-led #WeAreUnited movement advocating for student-athlete rights.
The letter also pointed to the Pac-12’s recent partnership with the Quidel Corporation, diagnostics company with rapid COVID-19 testing that can produce results in 15 minutes, as a reason for optimism.
“Governor Newsom, our request of you is that you will work with us — urgently and purposefully — to find a path forward for us to resume competition later this fall so that we can have the same opportunity as other teams around the country to play for a national championship,” the letter read in part.
“We have sat by for two weeks watching teams across the country play the game we love safely. Most schools have a fraction of the resources that our school and conference have provided to play safely. You are the only thing holding us back. Please #LetUsPlay,” USC quarterback Kedon Slovis said in an impassioned plea on Twitter.
Players at Oregon were also among those to react to the USC letter. Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough addressed a message to Gov. Brown.
“I ask you to consider the many athletes and coaches who want and need to play,” Shough said. “The Pac-12’s partnership with the Quidel Corporation for rapid testing gives us the assurance that several players were asking for. With frustration, we have watched other conferences and teams play, knowing our medical standards are as good or better than theirs. I know we cannot operate in a bubble and nothing is guaranteed. We simply want answers, clarity and the opportunity to OPT IN to play.
“We know our health and safety is your priority and respect your decisions thus far. However, with new rapid testing, your standards for our safety and Oregon’s medical protocol, we believe it is safe to play. #LetUsPlay.”
The Oregonian reported Wednesday afternoon that Gov. Brown and the Oregon Health Authority granted a request from the state’s two Pac-12 schools, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance.
“We want Oregon and Oregon State’s players to be able to focus on football while protecting their health and safety. We also want to ensure that team practices will not be derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak that would threaten the health not only of the players and coaches, but of their university communities and the wider communities in Eugene and Corvallis,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Brown, said in a statement to The Oregonian.
Oregon wide receiver Mycah Pittman addressed his thoughts toward the Pac-12.
“Dear @pac12, I ask if you guys can give us players an option to opt in or out. Display the risk of us playing this season and let us agree upon it. For you guys to take something away from me that I love so dearly it hurts and I had no option but listen. #WeWantToPlay,” he wrote on Twitter, later tagging Gov. Brown in a replay to the post.
Prior to the Big Ten’s decision to play football beginning next month, several players from both the Big Ten and Pac-12 had declared for the 2021 NFL draft, with both leagues postponing their seasons with hopes of playing in the spring. Two of those in the Pac-12 who’ve since declared for the draft played high school football in Utah and are expected to be high draft picks: Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell (who prepped at Desert Hills High) and USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele (Bingham High).