Players make voices heard on fate of 2020 season
Push seems close to shove as it relates to the fate of college football this fall.
Over the weekend, a heap of reports flooded sports news feeds, all circling back to one, gloomy development — the sport's major decision makers appear ready to drop the hammer on any hope left of a college football season starting within the next couple months.
But the players — at least a flurry of them on Sunday evening and Monday morning — aren't going down quietly.
With nearly 150,000 tweets since Sunday, the #WeWantToPlay movement is catching on at programs nation wide, with Auburn's quarterback and prominent face of the team, Bo Nix, leading the charge locally.
When a potential cancellation of the 2020 football season began picking up steam in social media spheres, some of the sport's elite talents and biggest names, such as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, acted quickly.
"Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game that all of us love," tweeted Lawrence, likely the No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL Draft. "Not divide and argue. There is a way forward."
Lawrence and Fields later shared the same graphic that merged the #WeAreUnited movement from the Big Ten and Pac-12 last week with the new #WeWantToPlay slogan.
Each Power Five conference is represented on the graphic, which outlines players' requests for how the season could be managed and played safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most notable stipulation is that players be allowed to "ultimately create a college football players association."
The players' hopes of what would essentially be a student-athlete unionization for the first time in the sport's history is the latest attempt to capitalize on an offseason of empowerment for college football players.
Student-athletes, just over the past few months, have changed state flags and school traditions because they were deemed racially charged, demanded more strict and clear COVID-19 regulations within conferences, and even asked that portions of proceeds from athletic departments be dished out to players should a season be played. Players are finding their voices — and using them — like never before.
For Auburn, athletes have been working out and practicing on campus since the first weekend of June. And the Tigers, like everyone else, are tired of being pulled every which way — seemingly by the day — waiting and waiting on concrete decisions from the SEC, Power Five and NCAA.
"Everyday it’s something new," Auburn junior running back Shaun Shivers tweeted Sunday. "Man we playing or not?"
Auburn is one of a small portion of programs to have seen multiple players opt out of the 2020 season so far. Seniors Chandler Wooten, a rotation linebacker, and Traivon Leonard, a reserve safety, announced last week they'll sit out Auburn's coming season. Wooten is expecting the birth of his son in November, and Leonard contracted the virus a few weeks ago and is dealing with other health issues.
The SEC said last month any fall-sport athlete who opts to sit out their respective season over COVID-19 concerns will not lose their scholarship for that academic year. Wooten and Leonard both want to return to the program in 2021.
The remainder of Gus Malzahn's team isn't waiting idly by. During the trend of cancellation talk that was met by the players cementing their stances, a handful of Tigers weren't paying attention to the noise.
Defensive backs Smoke Monday, Christian Tutt and Ladarius Tennison posted videos of voluntary drills inside the Tigers' practice facility late into the evening hours. Other players were in the weight room.
Auburn receiver Anthony Schwartz, who said Sunday he's "playing regardless," made it clear he's not going punt on the season. Until college football teams are told otherwise and until the facilities lock them out, players aren't going to stop working. Until the schedule is ripped up and disposed of — and fall 2020 is out of the question — Auburn is still eyeing Sept. 26 for its first game of the year.
"All I know is I’m ready to grind," Schwartz tweeted, "no matter what they say."
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