On Friday night, Ross Dellenger and Pat Forde of SI.com reported that a group of American Athletic Conference student-athletes had joined their counterparts in the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mountain West in creating a list of concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, the document entitled “Proposal for Change” originated at UCF at lists 10 concerns student-athletes would like to be addressed before the 2020 fall sports season gets underway.
The concerns can be read in their entirety here, and range from scholarship protections of players who opt out of the season to guaranteed insurance and health coverage for COVID-19-related issues after graduation to hazard play for student-athletes.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has not presented the document according to SI, and ECU head football coach Mike Houston was asked on Saturday if any of his players are involved in the movement.
“I don’t know if any of our guys have been involved with any of that,” Houston said. “No one has brought it to me from a standpoint that they were. We have had things brought to us, I’ve had multiple meetings — Q and A with myself, Q and A with Jon Gilbert — where we try to get answers to questions that our players have.
“Obviously we have a very stringent medical process in terms of dealing with the COVID-19 virus. We’re fortunate to have a strong medical community here locally. I think the players have confidence in the testing protocols we have and some of the procedures we have in place as far as trying to mitigate the virus as much as possible within our roster and within our building.”
One of the concerns listed involves testing players, coaches and staff twice a week during the season and then year-round for the virus. Earlier this off-season, the AAC mandated testing for all football personnel 72 hours before a game on par with what Power 5 conferences have also put into place. The proposal, however, calls for one test to be conducted the day after competition and no earlier than 48 hours before a game.
Of course, the problem with conducting tests only two days before a game is the turnaround time associated with that and the contract tracing efforts that then have to be carried out if positives pop up.
For ECU, the proximity of Vidant Medical facilities means tests can be turned around in a day or less, which bodes well for the Pirates’ ability to keep student-athletes safe. Right now, all student-athletes, coaches and staff are being tested on Thursday mornings.
While Houston has not encountered a player involved with this movement within his program, he said he has always maintained an open door policy with his players and staff and has worked to build a family-like environment within his football program.
“We try to create a culture here and an atmosphere here where — and I tell the parents this when we’re recruiting them — when those kids come here, we’re going to treat them like they’re our own,” Houston said. “I’m going to treat them like I expect my two sons to be treated. We’re going to have a family atmosphere. I have an open door policy with my players. The players know they can come and talk to us about anything they’re concerned about, and I encourage that. Certainly if there are any concerns with the players on our roster, we want them to bring those to us and we want to address them. I don’t want to ever be the guy that sits here tone deaf on anything.”
Houston said his role as football coach does not limit him to on-field things only. With the young men in his charge, he wants them to leave East Carolina University better men than when they started, and that means supporting them anyway possible and listening to their wants and needs.
“It’s a deal where my job as the football coach here — my job is to support our players, my job is to make sure they’re in a safe environment, my job is to make sure that they have the things they need to be successful, both on the field and off the field,” Houston said. “If I’m doing my job correctly, then they’re going to graduate from East Carolina and they’re going to be the man that God created them to be when they leave here. That’s how I approach what my role is, and I very much want to be an advocate for our players and someone that can support them in any manner.”