Last Thursday, University of Arizona President Robert Robbins answered a hypothetical question. Because of the state’s dramatic COVID caseload, Robbins said he would not open on-campus classes for students if the semester started now.
“If I had to say today, would we open? No,” he said during the school’s weekly update on the coronavirus.
But there are students already on campus, student-athletes.
Students first, athletes second. That’s how the phrase goes, right?
Yesterday, University of Arizona football player Malik Hausman exposed the hypocrisy of Robbins’ statement, tweeting, “So why me and my team on campus then?” in response to Robbins’ remarks.
Like other college football programs across the country, student-athletes at Arizona have been participating in “voluntary” workouts for a number of weeks. But workouts don’t really sound voluntary when 83 out of 86 Arizona football players show up on campus.
On Monday, the University rescheduled its plans for student-athletes to formally return to campus. The plan bars new student-athletes from arriving and encourages existing students on campus, i.e. virtually the entire football team, to continue their workouts.
But if students can’t return to campus, why is the football team there?
“We’re very confident in our re-entry plan and the processes in place for student-athletes who are on campus,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke told tucson.com. “We just felt it was appropriate not to expand that group at this time while our community is dealing with a surge in cases and our hospitals are reaching maximum capacity.”
Cases across the state are skyrocketing, but according to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, it’s not even appropriate to work out. On Monday, Ducey signed two executive orders to help slow the spread of the virus and closed gyms for the second time after reopening the state in May.
But it’s not just Arizona that is seeing an increase in cases. Other regions of the country have experienced similar spikes, including the southeast, southwest, and the west.
According to this NYT COVID hot spot map, almost every Pac-12 school is located in a county that is seeing rising COVID rates. Two remote Pac-12 schools - Oregon State University and Washington State University - are in counties with few cases. And cases have plateaued in Boulder County, Colorado.
Stanford plans to bring back half of its undergrads to campus this fall. USC plans to end its semester early due to fears of a second wave. And Cal-Berkley is making most of its courses available online.
With many Pac-12 schools offering a phased or modified approach to school in the fall, why shouldn’t student-athletes get a phased or modified approach to sports?
Even Arizona State University football coach, Herm Edwards, has questioned whether college football should be played if students are not in the classroom.
“If the students aren’t on campus and we feel they’re not safe, then the question I have to ask - well, if they’re not safe, are the players safe?” he told ESPN in April. “And this is a sport that we play - it’s not a social distancing sport...this is a game built on contact.”
While the Pac-12 could push the fall football season to the spring, the conference’s unpaid labor force is practicing in hot spots to prepare for a season that might happen.
If Hausman and his peers were students first, President Robbins would’ve mandated that they return home by now.
NCAA athletes are students first.