Universities Requiring Football Players to Sign “Waiver-Type” Documents

By Doyice Cotten

A number of schools are requiring football players (and sometimes their parents) to sign an agreement relating to COVID-19. Some agreements are primarily a warning of the risk, but others seem intended to waive the liability of the university should the player contract the disease.

Ohio State University

ESPN announced that Ohio State University players and their parents were asked to sign a “Buckeye Pledge” by which they acknowledged the risk of COVID-19 and agreed to testing, to self quarantining, to reporting of potential exposure, and to comply with CDC guidelines such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

The agreement states that failure to comply may lead to “immediate removal of athletic participation privileges (not my athletics scholarship) and/or the inability to use athletics facilities.” AD Gene Smith said the agreement is “intended more for educational purposes than it is for liability.” The agreement includes the language

although the university is following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] 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.

Smith stated that he got the idea from the Indiana University Athletic Director, Fred Glass.

Indiana University

In the IU agreement, “Participant Expectations and Commitment Pledge,” obtained by ESPN, 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.”

Southern Methodist University

According to the Dallas Morning News, Southern Methodist University is requiring football players to sign an agreement regarding COVID-19 before returning to campus for summer workouts.

This agreement seems to include a waiver of liability in that the student (and parents if student is under 18) agree that they cannot hold the school liable for anything related to COVID-19 and waives the student’s right to litigation. The document is entitled “ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF RISK FOR COVID-19 SUMMER 2020.” Students are faced with a choice of signing the document or declining to return to campus.

According to The Dallas Morning News, football players cannot participate if they do not sign the waiver; however, the eligibility or scholarship is not affected. The document was developed by SMU’s Office of Legal Counsel and, once signed, waives the student’s right to litigation. The student signs next to a line that reads “[I] further agree to voluntarily assume all risks related to the Covid-19 virus.”

Risk Management

Requiring athletes to sign liability waivers is nothing new. Requiring the waiver may seem hard-hearted, but the risk of lawsuit is great. The university can require protocols for safety – but the student athlete is not always under the supervision of the coaches. Without seeing the actual documents being used, it is hard to compare them. However, according to reports, the Indiana and Ohio documents inform the football player of the risk and get him to agree to follow COVID-19 safeguards.  The SMU document sounds stronger in that the player waives his right to litigation.  The document would be even stronger if it was entitled “Waiver of Liability.”

Thanks to EpicTop10.com via Flickr.