LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) — Eight football players from the University of Nebraska have sued over a decision by the Big Ten Conference to cancel the fall sports season in the face of health risks and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a case in which a powerful collegiate athletic conference contends that its student athletes have no rights,” the players say in their lawsuit, filed in Lancaster County District Court on Thursday.
According to the players, the Big Ten violated its own governing documents by indefinitely postponing the games without formally holding a vote of the university presidents and chancellors of member institutions.
When commissioner Kevin Warren announced the postponement on Aug. 11, he stated that the decision was reached jointly by vote. However, the players and their families do not believe this is true, as several university officials across the conference have stated that an official vote never took place.
Big Ten regulations require that a council comprised of all member institution presidents and chancellors vote on “matters of enforcement” of conference rules, bylaws and agreements that affect revenue and athlete participation in televised events.
If that vote never took place, the players contend, then the decision announced by Warren is invalid.
“The Big Ten has rejected calls for transparency and refuses to provide documents supporting its claim that a vote was taken or that a proper process was followed. As a result of the failure of process, the student athlete plaintiffs have been irreparably harmed,” the players say in their complaint.
Responding to the lawsuit, the Big Ten said the players’ action “has no merit.”
“The Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors overwhelmingly voted to postpone the fall sports season based on medical concerns and in the best interest of the health and safety of our student athletes,” the conference said in a statement.
The conference expressed that it shares the players’ disappointment and vowed to defend its decision to cancel play.
In an open letter to the Big Ten community published last week, Warren laid out the health risks and other factors that informed the conference’s decision and noted that the postponement of fall sports “will not be revisited.”
Warren’s transparency did not move the players, however. They claim that the conference acted in bad faith when it relied on “flawed and/or incomplete” studies about potential long-lasting organ damage caused by the Covid-19 virus.
Plaintiffs include Garrett Snodgrass, Garret Nelson, Ethan Piper, Noa Pola-Gates, Alante Brown, Brant Banks, Brig Banks and Jackson Hannah.
Attorney Mike Flood of the Norfolk firm Jewell & Collins represents the players, along with Patrick S. Cooper and Mark C. Laughlin of Fraser Stryker in Omaha.
Flood served in the Nebraska Legislature from 2004 to 2013 before he was termed out. He is currently campaigning to reclaim the seat.
In addition to an injunction barring the Big Ten from canceling or moving the fall sports season to January, the players seek a declaration that conference officials violated conference rules in the manner they reached the decision.
Although the players say they will suffer damages from being unable to “showcase their talent to professional scouts, or effectively develop their brand,” the 13-page suit states that they will not seek or accept more than $75,000 in damages.
Seventy-seven teams out of 130 at the NCAA’s highest level of competition are still planning to play football this fall, though rising infection rates and campus closures in recent weeks may make that impossible. Of the five major conferences, so far the Big Ten and Pacific-12 Conference have backed off plans to play football in some form this fall.