The concerns behind an athlete movement in the Ohio Valley Conference

'We are a group of organized Student-Athletes from 7 OVC universities and are continuing to grow.'

The first college football game of the 2020 season is today, Saturday, Aug. 29, between Austin Peay and Central Arkansas – a pair of FCS schools from the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and Southland Conference, respectively.

The game will kick off 25 days after athletes from seven schools in the OVC emailed many of the members of the conference’s Board of Presidents from a recently created Gmail account, two days after the “Players of the Pac-12” penned a post titled #WeAreUnited for The Players’ Tribune and one day before the #BigTenUnited movement started with another post on The Players’ Tribune.

On Friday, Out of Bounds obtained an email with the all-caps subject line “OVC COVID CONCERNS” that was sent on the evening of Aug. 4 to university and conference administrators in the OVC, roughly five hours after the OVC announced its 2019-20 Academic Medal of Honor recipients.

The email from the athletes read:

To whom it may concern,

We are a group of organized Student-Athletes from 7 OVC universities and are continuing to grow. We have many concerns with athletics proceeding in the Fall. We have seen movements from the PAC-12, University of Idaho, and Colorado State and we feel that it is important to voice our concerns. However, we feel uncomfortable revealing our names and risk losing our scholarships. Here are our concerns:

1. Since we’ve been on campus, protocols by staff and coaches have not been taken seriously.

2. Athletes and staff aren’t wearing masks during workouts, practices, locker rooms, meetings and other areas on campuses.

3. Athletes have left universities and gone to high-risk areas without being tested/quarantined upon returning.

4. Testing has been inadequate. A limited number of people are being tested and we are concerned about COVID spreading throughout our teams.

5. COVID continues to spread throughout states in the OVC.

6. Coaches have repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus.

7. We do not know the long-term effects Covid-19 can have on our health.

8. We feel that we need a 3rd party medical advisor to hold OVC teams accountable with following protocols.

9. The majority of players on our teams feel unsafe proceeding with a season.

10. Student-athletes have had health issues after contracting the virus. (Link below)

11. Our health is being put at risk for financial motives by the Ohio Valley Conference.

The links below are recent stories that highlight difficulties that other college athletes are having. Players at OVC schools are dealing with the same problems and we are in communication. We need your help and we urge you to consider moving the season to the spring.

Thank you.

The email included links to three stories:

  • A USA TODAY story about Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney’s mother posting about her son’s potential heart complications on Facebook after Feeney had tested positive for COVID-19.

  • A story published by Stadium about how three-quarters of the University of Idaho’s football team reportedly didn’t want to play football in the fall due to health concerns about COVID-19.

  • A story from the Coloradoan that detailed alleged efforts by some of Colorado State’s football coaches to prevent players from reporting potential COVID-19 symptoms, threats to reduce playing time for players who need to quarantine and altered contract tracing.

A copy of the email from the OVC athletes is shown below.

Click on the image to open in a new window.

Share

Roughly three hours after the email from the OVC athletes was sent, OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche forwarded the email to all of the members of the Board of Presidents, along with the message:

Members of the OVC Board of Presidents,

I wanted to share an email with you that was sent to our office by a group of student‐athletes experiencing concerns about the anticipated structure of intercollegiate athletics this fall. I know this email was sent to some of you, but not all Board members. We will plan on discussing the situation when we talk tomorrow. I have copied the ADs on this note and we will plan on discussing it on the ADs’ call as well.

Ten days after the concerned OVC athletes sent their email, the conference postponed fall competition and championships, although OVC schools that compete in football are allowed to play up to four non-conference games.

On Friday, Out of Bounds emailed the Gmail account that the OVC athletes created but has not yet received a response at the time this newsletter was published.

Tuesday, Aug. 4 – the day the concerned OVC athletes emailed university and conference administrators – was also when Eastern Kentucky Director of Campus Recreation Justin Raymer notified Eastern Kentucky Athletic Director Matt Roan of a student who tested positive after last visiting the Campus Recreation Center on July 23, as well as the day that former Eastern Kentucky kicker Landon White announced in an Instagram post that he was leaving the team due to safety concerns.

White’s account is now listed as private, so the post is either unavailable to the public or it has since been deleted.

A Google search result still shows part of White’s caption for the post.

Part of White’s comments included, “This is a tough day for me, but somebody has gotta tell the truth on what us athletes are going through during this pandemic,” according to The Courier-Journal, as well as “The Head Coach knows and the Head Coach does nothing. The Head Coach does not care about his players safety as well as his staff and their families."

The news quickly made its way to the Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents.

Vasu Vasudevan, a member of the Board of Regents, emailed Roan, Eastern Kentucky’s AD, before 9 a.m. local time on Aug. 5 with a link to a news story about White’s departure from the team. Vasudevan wrote to Roan:

As I read this on the News, it is a bit concerning and alarming when the Athletic protocols are not followed. I believe, we have put together a plan on the COVID‐19 Testing and Guidelines for Students and Student Athletes returning to campus. Could you please look into the facts of this matter and ascertain how authentic this is and to prevent any such future occurrences so there is no breach in the process. Thank You Matt for doing a great job!

A concerned 2016 EKU alumnus emailed Roan later in the day with a strongly-worded email that referenced White’s social media post, as well as claims that the alum had seen “football position coaches post photos not social distancing or wearing masks.”

The email ended with the following paragraph:

I could go on with my disappointment in the program, but will limit my comments for now. I have been a staunch supporter of all EKU sports teams since my first semester on campus in 2009. This includes being a colonel club member and season ticket holder. Can you please tell me why I should continue to be a proud supporter of EKU Athletics and the university as a whole?

A copy of the full complete email is below.

Click the image to open in a new window.

Here’s how Roan responded:

Click the image to open in a new window.

Eastern Kentucky’s Faculty Athletics Representative Scotty Dunlap, a professor in the School of Safety, Security and Emergency Management, emailed Roan on the night of Aug. 5, “This is disconcerting if it’s true.” Roan said the university was beginning a review right away. The next emails in the thread from both Dunlap and Roan were redacted.

Just before 2 p.m. on Aug. 5, the day after White’s claims were published on Instagram, Roan emailed Nicholls State University Athletic Director Jonathan Terrell, who was officially introduced to his current position on June 29 – a position that Roan held before leaving Nicholls for Eastern Kentucky in February.

The subject line of Roan’s email to Terrell was “Address to teams.”

It’s unclear what was the purpose of Roan’s email to his successor at a different university.

Some notable lines include:

  • “Outside of testing have we been 100% compliant? Probably not, but not for lack of effort or education.”

  • “While all of us hopefully appreciate the significance, each of us probably feels a little differently than others about what should be happening. That’s ok. Opt out.”

  • “OVC schools have expressed a desire to play. If that should fall through, we’re equipping ourselves with options.”

The full email is below:

Click the image to open in a new window.

On Monday, Aug. 3, the day before White left Eastern Kentucky’s football team and before the OVC athletes expressed their concerns via email, Eastern Kentucky Chair of the Department of Exercise & Sport Science Dr. Eric Fuchs emailed Associate Athletic Director Mark Howard that Moberly Building room 216, which appears to be where the school holds its weekly football press conferences, according to the Richmond Register, had groups larger than the maximum number allowed, per COVID-19 guidelines.

The email from Fuchs read:

Please note that the Moberly 216 and 221 maximum number of people that are suppose to be in these room per COVID evaluation.

Currently you have groups exceeding this number in Moberly 216 which I have observed and know as you have brought in Chairs that are not part of this original set up from when I walked in this morning at 10:00 AM.

Please make sure you are Complying with University Policy, I understand it is FB Camp but again as building supervisor I am asking you to comply with University Policy on this and to prevent issues with COVID.

These rooms have been schedule for use but per the email below you were informed the maximum number of people per room.

The next day, White announced he was leaving the team.

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, the NCAA Board of Governors announced that the three divisions of the NCAA would be responsible for making their own determinations regarding the status of their fall championships. That afternoon, DeBauche, the OVC commissioner, emailed the conference’s presidents and chancellors a summary of the conditions that must be met for each division:

1. All members schools must comply with federal, state and local guidelines

2. All members must comply with resocialization of sport guidelines and updates during season and championships

3. All postseason events involving NCAA student-athletes must adhere to guidelines

4. All student-athletes must be able to opt-out of fall sports participation without losing a scholarship

5. Extension of eligibility considerations must be given to student-athletes not participating due to COVID or resulting from shortened or canceled seasons

6. No waivers of COVID liability may be required of student-athletes.

7. The school must pay COVID related expenses for student-athletes participating in athletically-related activities.

8. Fall sports championships must be conducted in a controlled environment with reduced sites, brackets, etc.

9. Fall sports championships cannot occur if 50% of eligible teams do not have a season.

10. A plan must be developed to reduce the scope and scale of fall sports championships if they occur.

11. NCAA must establish a hotline related to COVID19.

Within less than 24 hours, one of the concerns of the OVC athletes who were behind the anonymous Gmail account had at least been partially addressed by the NCAA. They had written, “we feel uncomfortable revealing our names and risk losing our scholarships,” and now at the very least, they could choose to opt out without fear of losing their scholarships.

On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 5, an Eastern Kentucky football player opted out of the season.

Share


Recap of the last newsletter

Click the image below to read the newsletter.

“On a question that asked, ‘What kind of services or programming would be helpful to you and other student-athletes?’, 19 Nevada athletes (17 percent of respondents) asked for more mental health services.”

Read the full newsletter here.


Connect on social media

Twitter | Instagram | YouTube


Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at andrew.wittry@gmail.com or on Twitter.