What *else* do athletes agree to when they opt out of fall sports?

By opting out, some athletes agree to give up their athletic department COVID-19 testing, student housing or team gear

Update: This newsletter was updated at 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 11, with comments from an Oregon spokesman.

On Monday, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who’s projected to be one of the first players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, announced he was opting out of the 2020-21 college football season to prepare for the draft. The Pac-12 previously postponed all sports through Dec. 31, 2020, after the conference’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee’s update on Aug. 11 detailed the high prevalence of COVID-19 in Pac-12 communities and the increasing concern about potential heart complications.

If Sewell opts out, officially, under the terms of Oregon’s COVID-19 opt-out form, he agrees that he will not participate in practice, competition or individual skill instruction with Oregon’s coaches, nor will he be able to receive training table meals or participate in on-campus recruiting activities for the university. But he would still be able to utilize services such as academic support and mental health services, according to a copy of Oregon’s COVID-19 opt-out form that was obtained by Out of Bounds.

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On Aug. 5, the NCAA Board of Governors announced, “All student-athletes must be allowed to opt out of participation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. If a college athlete chooses to opt out, that individual’s athletics scholarship commitment must be honored by the college or university.”

Like Michael Scott’s attempt to declare bankruptcy in The Office, you can’t simply opt out of athletics for the semester just by declaring it. Depending on the school, you may need the signatures of three to six members of your school’s athletic department, and if you’re a freshman under the age of 18, you’ll need an additional signature from one of your parents, too.

If you’re a college athlete who wants to opt out of the 2020-21 season, you might first be required to have a meeting with your head coach and athletic director, and if you do decide to opt out, you have to sign a form. You can’t simply announce your decision on social media and call it a day.

But what else are athletes agreeing to do or agreeing not to do when they opt out of the season? Well, that depends on the school.

Obviously, opting out means an athlete can no longer participate in practices or competition, but opt-out forms often include many other details.

Out of Bounds obtained the opt-out forms from several Division I schools, ranging from schools that compete in FBS football at the Power Five level, to the Group of Five, to the FCS level.

However, some Division I athletes whose school is still competing in fall sports are currently unable to opt out, even if they wanted to.

Even though Iowa State’s fall classes began on Aug. 17, an Iowa State spokesman told Out of Bounds on Sept. 8 that the school’s opt-out document “is still in draft form,” and encouraged Out of Bounds to follow up in a couple of weeks once it was finalized. In response, Out of Bounds asked if students who wished to opt out would have to opt out under the terms of the draft or if they would have to wait to officially opt out until the document was finalized.

“We would need to have a final document and, thus, it’s on fast track,” said Senior Associate AD Steve Malchow in an email.

On Sept. 2 – two days after Iowa State announced its plans to allow roughly 25,000 fans at its football home opener, or nearly 40 percent of the capacity of Jack Trice Stadium – the university reversed course and President Wendy Wintersteen decided the school would not allow any fans in the stadium for the game, based on “feedback she has received from the community.” The New York Times had named Ames, Iowa, a COVID-19 hotspot the weekend prior to Iowa State’s 25,000-fan announcement that Monday.

On Sept. 8, the day Iowa State told Out of Bounds that the school needed to have a final opt-out document in place before athletes could opt out, Ames ranked among the five worst metro areas in the country in terms of new COVID-19 cases over the previous two weeks, relative to population, according to The New York Times.

But until Iowa State’s athletic department finalizes its opt-out form, any athlete at the school who wants to opt out is unable to.

An Associate Athletic Director at Louisiana Tech, which had its football season opener against Baylor postponed due to “the number of recent positive COVID-19 results and contact tracing,” told Out of Bounds, “To date we have not had any student-athletes with such a request so no document has been produced.”

In response to a public records request for a copy of Florida Atlantic’s opt-out form, a member of the university’s Division of Public Affairs office told Out of Bounds on Sept. 4 that there were no responsive documents.

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Prerequisite meetings

Before any Sacramento State athlete opts out, he or she must first meet with his or her head coach, sport supervisor and the athletic director, according to a draft of the university’s opt-out policies and procedures. If an athlete at the university decides to opt out, he or she must notify the head coach and/or athletic director in writing and the opt-out form specifically says that texts, voicemails or social media posts don’t count as acceptable forms of notification.

At Albany, athletes must first meet with their head coach, sport supervisor, senior woman’s administrator, athletic academic counselor and the associate athletic director for compliance before opting out.

Testing

According to Sacramento State’s draft, once an athlete opts out, the school “will no longer provide any type of testing for the virus.” Out of Bounds reached out to Sacramento State Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Brian Berger to ask if this policy that was written in the university’s first draft is still part of the school’s opt-out policies and to ask why athletes who opt out do not receive any testing for the virus.

“Our opt-out form still includes that language,” Berger said. “The reasoning is that once a student-athlete opts out, they are removing themselves from all team activities. This includes, meetings, practices and access to the locker room and weight room. Student-athletes who have opted out will still receive access to academic advising and rehabilitation services for existing injuries. Student-athletes who have opted out can also access COVID-19 testing through our campus health center.”

Albany’s “optional participation” form states:

Once a student-athlete opts out of athletics participation, the University at Albany will no longer provide any type of testing for the virus. If the student-athlete chooses to return and opt-in to athletically related activities, they must be cleared and follow all medical protocols in force at the time.

UNLV athletes who opt out will no longer be subject to the athletic department’s COVID-19 protocols, such as daily symptom checks and weekly testing.

Even if an athlete at Florida State opts out, he or she agrees to “conduct myself in a socially-responsible manner.”

Florida State’s form reads, “I remain subject to all student health and safety requirements established by Florida State University and the athletics department. Further, I will conduct myself in a socially-responsible manner and will not engage in behavior that subjects myself, my teammates or others to risk of infection by COVID-19.”

Athletic aid

The University of Oregon’s opt-out document says that the 2020-21 school year will count toward an athlete’s five-year eligibility clock, however the school will follow the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ announcement on Aug. 21 that “all fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it, as the Council suggested, through a blanket waiver.”

After the publication of this newsletter, an Oregon spokesman told Out of Bounds in an email, “The NCAA clock extension waiver will be available to any Oregon student-athlete who opts out of a season for safety reasons, and they would receive a sixth year to complete four years of eligibility if needed.”

While financial aid is guaranteed for athletes who opt out of the 2020-21 season, it isn’t necessarily guaranteed on the back end of their college career if they pursue an additional year. “Athletic aid in my fifth year or beyond is dependent on NCAA rules and the terms of my financial aid agreement,” Oregon’s opt-out form states.

Oklahoma State athletes who opt out this year aren’t guaranteed athletics aid after they graduate.

Rutgers’ opt-out agenda similarly reads, “The 2020-21 academic year will count towards my 5-year NCAA eligibility clock” and that “there is no guarantee in receiving athletics aid in your 5th year.”

On the other hand, South Carolina’s form specifies that the 2020-21 school year will not count towards an athlete’s five-year eligibility clock if he or she opts out.

While athletes at Albany are guaranteed to keep their 2020-21 athletic aid, the university’s opt-out form states, “All athletic scholarships are written as one-year awards and thus the receipt of athletic aid beyond 2020-21 is not guaranteed.”

Another provision on Albany’s form states, “If applicable, additional eligibility outside of four (4) years is not guaranteed to be supported by the institution.”

The forms at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech state that athletes who opt out won’t have access to the NCAA Student Assistance Fund for non-emergency reasons. Similarly, Florida State’s opt-out form states athletes who opt out won’t have access to the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund or Student Assistance Fund, although the university “may consider unique requests case-by-case.”

The Seminoles’ form also states, “The cost of attendance denominator is established by institutional policy applicable to all students, and may be adjusted accordingly if the student-athlete chooses to return home to live with parents.”

Housing, apparel and team rules

A copy of Rutgers’ opt-out agenda states that athletes who opt out will not have access to “student housing (e.g., dorms),” nor will they have access to team-issued gear or equipment. The opt out forms for Albany, Cincinnati, Florida State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Texas Tech athletes state the same, regarding access to team gear or equipment. South Carolina’s form specifies that the removal of gear and equipment access only applies to items that weren’t previously issued.

A Cincinnati spokesman said, “If they have opted-out of practice/competition, there is no need to issue new gear for activities they aren’t participating in moving forward.”

Out of Bounds contacted a Rutgers Associate Athletic Director for Communications to ask what’s the protocol for athletes who opted out to find new housing. Out of Bounds has not received a response at the time this newsletter was published.

If an Oklahoma State or Rutgers athlete who opts out wants to attend one of their school’s athletic events, they will no longer receive free admission. Texas Tech athletes who opt out will have to pay to attend their specific team’s sporting events.

Athletes at Oklahoma State, Rutgers, South Carolina and Texas Tech who choose to opt out agree that they are still eligible to be selected for drug testing under NCAA, conference and/or school regulations.

Florida State’s opt-out form states that an athlete who opt out “remains subject to the Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, the Athletics Department Substance Misuse Protocols, and all other department policies and sport-specific team rules.” UNLV athletes who opt out “must continue to adhere to” team rules, in addition to the UNLV Student Code of Conduct and athletic department policies.

The Intercollegiate recently published a long-form story on team rules in college athletics, which range from UConn football’s 43-page 2019 rulebook including a provision that players “must let Head Coach know of your intentions if you are going to get married while in college,” to Texas A&M softball players being unable to dine at a restaurant in which a softball staff member is already dining, to Fresno State men’s tennis players having mandatory study hall if their GPA fell below 3.0.

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Discretionary services

Cincinnati’s opt-out form states that athletes who opt out will continue to have remote access to academic support services, sports medicine services, financial aid services, development programming and counseling services, but below that list of services, the form reads:

*Everything listed is subject to the Athletic Directors discretion

The draft of Sacramento State’s opt-out policies states that “6. Student-athletes will continue to have access to sports medicine for rehabilitation and treatment purposes,” and that “7. Student-athletes electing to opt out will not be permitted to participate in any countable athletic related activities with the team, participate in voluntary athletics related activities with the team, virtual countable athletic related activities, or access athletics facilities (i.e. weight rooms, indoor practice facility, locker room, etc.).”

However, the very next bullet point states:

  1. Exceptions to provisions 6 and 7 above may be made at the discretion of the Director of Athletics/Designee.

While Albany athletes who opt out “will continue to have access to Student-Athlete Academic Services and should work through their Athletic Academic Coordinator regarding class questions, tutor appointments, etc.,” plus access to Counseling and Psychological Services, the university’s “optional participation” form states:

Exceptions to this provision may be made at the discretion of the Director of Athletics/Designee.

Opting back in

If an athlete at Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Rutgers or South Carolina chooses to opt out, then wants to opt back in, he or she will need approval from his or her head coach, sport administrator and the athletic trainer.

Florida State athletes who opt out can request to opt in “conditioned on approval of my head coach, sport administrator, the director of athletics and the sports medicine team.” They’re also told it’s “unlikely” that they can fully participate immediately.

When UNLV athletes opt out, they agree they any decisions to opt back into their sport will “be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Head Coach, Sports Administrator, and COVID-19 Advisory Committee.”

At Sacramento State, the head coach and athletic director must agree to an athlete’s return after he or she opts out.

Albany’s form makes it clear that the form is only for athletes who want to opt out of athletics during the fall semester. If an athlete wants to opt out for the spring semester too, he or she must do so by Jan. 1, 2021. That’s also the deadline for an athlete to submit an “Opt-In to Athletics Participation form” if he or she elects to return after opting out.

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Below are copies of the opt-out forms from several Division I schools, listed alphabetically. Click on a document to open it in a new window, which will allow you to zoom in.

Cincinnati

Florida State

Oklahoma State

Oregon

Rutgers

Sacramento State


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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.