As the world makes slow steps to return to a new normal, the return to collegiate sports will look a bit different this fall. Stadiums likely won’t be bulging with a sea of excited fans, if there will be fans at all.
Ohio State University has made a pledge to return to sports. Or rather, encourages its athletes to sign a pledge before they return to play.
The new two-page “Buckeye Acknowledgement and Pledge” must be signed by athletes (or athletes’ parents if the Buckeyes are under the age of 18) before returning to “voluntary” practice. If they don’t sign, are they allowed to compete? No. Is the pledge still considered voluntary? Yes. Scholarships and hard-earned spots on the team are on the line.
“We don’t look at that as a legal document. It’s a Buckeye pledge,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “Allow us to help you so that if we face a situation, our trainers, our strength coaches, our coaches or any athletic administrator sees a student-athlete not wearing a mask or not social distancing, we can say, ‘Hey, you made a commitment. You signed a pledge. Your parents signed a pledge. Your parents are a part of this.’”
Although athletes are checked for symptoms of Covid-19 before every workout, athletes competing in sports, particularly contact sports such as football, pose a greater risk of contracting coronavirus.
“I understand that although the university is following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the CDC and other experts to reduce the spread of infection, I can never be completely shielded from all risk of illness caused by COVID-19 or other infections,” the document reads.
The risk is a shared, team effort. Until the responsibility fumbles onto the athletes themselves.
Legal experts have mixed feelings on the Covid-19 waivers.
Dan Lust, a New York-based attorney and sports law analyst, said he expected Ohio State would still rely on its form as part of a potential liability defense.
“It’s going to come up either as a functional waiver up front that just says, ‘Hey, you have no rights to sue us right now because you’ve signed, and you’ve waived your legal rights,’” Lust said.
The document doesn’t seem to address liability explicitly.
What does this mean for the future of college sports? Other schools will likely adopt similar pledges or waivers to protect themselves from legal liability if athletes contract coronavirus. Once NCAA-approved mandatory team activities kick off July 13, we’ll likely be seeing more schools take action.
But until then, the Buckeye Battle Cry will resound across its empty turf field.
In the meantime, if you’re on the road toward competing, do what you can to look after yourself, your teammates, and even your competitors.
Image source: CDC Website