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Whatever happened to Pac-12 player demands? Did love of game trump desire for change?

SHARE Whatever happened to Pac-12 player demands? Did love of game trump desire for change?

FILE: In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, a PAC-12 logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Washington State and Oregon in Eugene, Ore.

Ryan Kang, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — So the Pac-12 is going to play football this fall after all. The league finally joined the other four Power Five conferences in playing a season because it was safer (insert big eye roll here) and because they were being shown up and left behind by rival conferences.

The Pac-12 will play seven games, beginning Nov. 6. Apparently, the league believes it’s better late than never, but November?! The Pac-12 ...

Wait, stop everything. Timeout. Aren’t they forgetting something? Has everybody suffered collective amnesia? Aren’t they forgetting all those demands that the players issued about two months ago?

Yes, they are, and thanks for reminding us.

Remember in early August, when Pac-12 players — using the hashtag #WeAreUnited — threw down the gauntlet and said working conditions had to change or else? They were Norma Rae and Cesar Chavez with shoulder pads. The Pac-12 players drew a line in the synthetic turf and issued a long list of grievances that had to be met or they would “opt out” of practices and games. Days later, Big Ten players issued their own list of demands, mostly related to COVID-19 protocols, but said nothing about opting out of the season.

About a week later, the Pac-12 (and the Big Ten) canceled the season, so none of the above much mattered. Then in September the Pac-12 (and the Big Ten) resurrected their seasons but there was not a word about those demands. So essentially the dialogue went something like this:

Pac-12 players in August: We won’t play unless our demands are met and that is final.

Pac-12 response: OK, we’ll look into it and support reform for NCAA rules. Thanks for your feedback.

Pac-12 in September: We’re going to play ball this season.

Players: Great! When do we start?

Nothing has changed. And it’s likely little will change. The #WeAreUnited movement will flop like so many others that have tried to change the NCAA’s antiquated and unfair way of doing business.

The Pac-12 players demanded COVID-19 protections — and they were granted those. Their other demands were given lip service and little more. The players wanted to protect other sports from being cut as a result of the pandemic. They wanted to save those sports by using endowment funds and “drastically” reducing the excessive pay of administrators and coaches and ending lavish expenditures on facilities.

That hasn’t happened — and never will. They overshot their mark there.

They also demanded an “end of racial injustice in college sports and society.” And “economic freedom and equity.” And medical insurance for sports-related medical conditions to cover six years after college athletics eligibility ends. And the right to earn money for use of their name, image and likeness and the ability to complete their athletic eligibility after participating in a pro draft if they are undrafted or decide they want to return to school instead. And the ability to transfer to another school one time without losing eligibility. And half of each sport’s conference revenue to be divided among athletes.

Most of those things are perfectly reasonable and should have been granted a long time ago, and #WeAreUnited had some leverage to make them happen. They had the NCAA and their conferences and schools right where they wanted them: Desperate to play football so they can pay their bills. The athletes could’ve held the conference’s feet to the fire; instead, they put out the fire.

To have enough clout to force change, they had to live up to their hashtag — #WeAreUnited. Almost right from the start, they were not. Only days after issuing their opt-out threat, some players even fled to the #WeWantToPlay group headed by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Several Pac-12 players said early on that they supported the #WeAreUnited movement but wouldn’t opt out of the season. And when the league said it would end the ban on football this fall and begin play in November, nobody opted out for the cause.

In mid-September, USC players actually wrote an open letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom stating “we want to play.” Arizona players followed with a letter of their own, making the same request. 

The weakness of the players’ cause is the same as it has always been. The allure of simply playing the game is too strong to make a stand and back up a threat not to play. Nothing has changed in the way college football does its business.