Nearly three-fourths of Idaho’s football players don’t want to play this fall because of health concerns regarding the unknown long-term impact of COVID-19, sources told Stadium.
Multiple players told Stadium they have communicated those concerns to head coach Paul Petrino, assistant coaches, athletic director Terry Gawlik and school president Scott Green.
“I know that this will get drastically worse as the season progresses and I know in my heart it’s not the morally correct thing to do,” a player said. “We feel we have been neglected by the NCAA in terms of wealth over health.”
Idaho, a former FBS school that is now in the FCS, has tested 125 student-athletes across all fall sports with nine testing positive for COVID-19, a school spokesman said. In all, 24 student-athletes currently are being quarantined or in isolation, the spokesman said. Also, at least two coaches also have tested positive, sources said.
Players talked to Stadium on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared being cut from the team and/or losing their scholarships if they were identified.
Last week, Idaho’s football players voted on whether they “felt comfortable participating in 2020 season given the current COVID-19 policies that are in place.” In the confidential poll, 60 of 82 players (73 percent) indicated they didn’t want to play this fall because of health and safety concerns.
The coaches were not made aware of the poll, the players said.
“I have family members that are immune compromised and I don’t want to risk them getting sick by playing,” a player said. “I don’t know the long-term effects of this virus and don’t want it to affect my life down the line.”
Added another player: “A lot of us feel like player safety isn’t a top priority and they’re pushing this season [to be played] without proper safety precautions. We feel it would be safer to play in the spring with the other FCS conferences that have moved to the spring.”
Idaho’s players are the latest example of student-athletes recently expressing concerns over health and safety issues. Several Pac-12 players indicated they would opt out of this season unless several conditions were met, including prohibiting agreements that waive liability and having schools provide third-party COVID testing, as part of a #WeAreUnited movement.
Also a handful of players, including Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, said they would not play this season due to health concerns and/or to declare for next year’s NFL Draft.
The Washington Post reported SEC players are questioning the safety protocols provided by their schools for the upcoming season.
Like the majority of NCAA Division I football programs, Idaho has been participating in voluntary campus workouts. The Vandals are scheduled to begin fall camp on Friday.
Idaho is a member of the Big Sky Conference in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision. Last week, the Big Sky announced it would wait to make a decision on fall sports, including football, until after the NCAA Board of Governors meeting, which takes place Tuesday. The Board of Governors could vote to cancel all fall sports, including FCS football; move the start of fall sports to later in the fall or next spring; or decide it needs more time to make a decision.
The NCAA Board of Governors ruling does not impact the Football Bowl Subdivision, as several of those conferences, including the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and SEC, have already announced their schedule plans.
“We’re worried about being forced to play for financial reasons in the fall, when the safer option would be to delay the season or move entirely to the spring,” a player said.
Idaho announced last week it plans to test every student this fall, with those results available within 24 hours. Idaho begins its fall semester on Aug. 31.
“The majority of our team is strongly concerned with the safety of each other and our community, friends and family,” a player said. “We understand we may be able to fight off the virus, but we’ll be increasing the risk to others who may not be as fortunate. We all want to play when it’s safe, but we do not think this fall is the appropriate time for a season.”
Following Stadium’s report, Idaho issued statements from Petrino and Gawlik later Tuesday afternoon.
“We stand behind our student-athletes and fully support their right to speak out,” Petrino said in a statement. “I also have shared with our players that I am available to listen and discuss options at any time if they have concerns about returning to play in the current environment. Our athletic training staff continues to do an excellent job of adapting and implementing new practices to help our student-athletes and staff re-integrate as safely as possible. Our focus has been, and will remain, on keeping the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes a top priority.
“Today, we gathered as a team to discuss the parameters of the fall season, as well as the safety protocols that exist in our facility and on campus. I really appreciated the opportunity to collaboratively discuss the dynamic and difficult decisions that are being made throughout the country on these issues. We will continue to communicate with our team and seek their feedback as we work together to get through these unprecedented times.”
Idaho dropped from FBS to FCS after the 2017 season. In two years in the FCS, the Vandals are 9-14.