Football players seek changes before returning to UCLA

NCAA Football

LOS ANGELES (AP)UCLA officials say they feel good regarding answering the concerns raised by football players about returning to campus this week.

It will be the first time in three months that players will be allowed back after the coronavirus pandemic halted all athletic activities.

Athletic director Martin Jarmond wrote to players about the concerns raised in a letter received by the department on Friday. The Los Angeles Times reported that 30 football players signed a letter asking for a third-party health official to monitor football practices. The letter also seeks anonymous whistle-blower protections for athletes and staff to report violations, along with making sure each player’s decision to return to campus is voluntary without fear of losing a scholarship.

According to The Times, the letter cited ”neglected and mismanaged injury cases” as a reason it was sent. Players wrote that if their demands were not met, they would not participate in booster or recruiting events as well as any football-related promotions.

Matt Elliott, the university’s senior associate athletic director for internal operations, said during a conference call Saturday that most of what the players requested was already in place or being reviewed.

”Coach (Chip) Kelly and Martin got on a Zoom call on Friday to answer questions. It was voluntary and a great opportunity for everyone to have clear and direct answers,” Elliott said.

Having athletes return to UCLA’s campus comes in the midst of a rough week for college athletics. Clemson reported on Friday that 23 football players were among 28 people that tested positive for COVID-19 since returning earlier this month. A day earlier, Texas reported 13 additional positive cases, with 10 more asymptomatic and in self-quarantine.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was one of the players signing the letter, took to Twitter on Friday to say the letter doesn’t single out Kelly, but that it was about the safety of the program as a whole.

”No one said they didn’t trust coach Kelly … Don’t turn this into a feeding frenzy on Coach,” Thompson-Robinson tweeted. ”Would also like to state that Coach Kelly agrees with ALL of the demands on this letter and is working to get them in place.”

Football and athletes from fall Olympic sports (men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s water polo and cross country) who live locally will be allowed to return Monday. UCLA’s plan has four phases, starting with COVID-19 and antibody testing as well as a physical and mental health screening. The first phase for athletes is expected to last from three to 10 days before they can begin strength and conditioning workouts.

The UCLA plan was done in conjunction with the Los Angeles County health department. The NCAA recently approved a plan allowing for extended football and basketball workouts next month, but the county has not cleared UCLA for that timeline as of yet.

The football team is scheduled to open the season on Aug. 29 against New Mexico State at the Rose Bowl.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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