Ohio State football players and their parents were asked to sign an acknowledgment of risk waiver regarding the coronavirus pandemic before returning to campus for voluntary workouts on June 8, athletic director Gene Smith confirmed to ESPN on Sunday.
The "Buckeye Pledge," obtained by ESPN and other media outlets, asks players to "help stop the spread of the COVID-19" and accept "I may be exposed to COVID-19 and other infections." By signing the two-page electronic pledge, players agree to testing and potential self-quarantining, monitoring for symptoms, reporting any potential exposure in a timely manner and to practice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
The waiver states "any failure to comply with my Buckeye Pledge above may lead to immediate removal of athletic participation privileges (not my athletics scholarship) and/or the inability to use athletics facilities."
Every football player has signed the waiver, according to a school spokesman who also said the university is not sharing cumulative testing information publicly.
Smith said the waiver is intended more for educational purposes than it is for liability.
"That's why we call it a pledge," he said. "We don't look at that as a legal document. It's a Buckeye pledge. 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.'"
As schools across the country have begun to bring athletes back for voluntary workouts, many athletic directors have expressed similar concerns about what Ohio State's plan aims to curtail -- student-athletes acting like, well, students.
Athletic departments at every level have been making painstaking plans to keep their players safe while following and often exceeding CDC guidelines. There's only so much they can do, though, once the players leave the controlled confines of the athletic facilities.
"You've got to make a commitment," Smith said. "If you're going back to your apartment, with your roommates or by yourself or whatever, or if you choose to go out and have dinner somewhere now that places are reopening, you need to wear a mask. You need to social distance. We're hammering our kids on that concept. Social distancing is the biggest challenge we've been having. They're kids. They want to be close to one another."
Smith said he got the idea from Indiana athletic director Fred Glass during a weekly call with the Big Ten ADs. Smith said they always share best practices and ideas on the call, and Glass wanted to find a way to help ensure the players' behavior was right and get them to make a commitment on it.
According to IU's COVID-19 "Participant Expectations and Commitment Pledge," obtained by ESPN on Monday, athletes were asked to agree to report any exposures to the sports medicine staff, to be tested and self-quarantine if symptoms develop, and to participate "fully and honestly" with the sports medicine staff for contact tracing. The athletes were also asked to agree to wear a mask in all public spaces, and to practice social distancing whenever possible. The pledge states that "any violation may lead to immediate removal of athletics participation and/or dismissal from my team."
According to the waiver, the athletes and their parents "understand COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and it is possible to develop and contract the COVID-19 disease, even if I follow all of the safety precautions above and those recommended by the CDC, local health department, and others. 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."
"They all want to play," Smith said. "They all want an opportunity to have a season. Look, you're the ones at the end of the day that if you don't follow these protocols, you're going to make it very difficult for us to help you have that season."