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Ohio State asks amateurs to sign away their rights to represent a nine-figure athletic department

Unpaid labor being compelled to hold harmless a public university, just another day in college athletics

Quarterback Justin Fields of the Ohio State Buckeyes scrambles with the football during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Clemson Tigers at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Although debates about the concepts of “student-athlete” and “amateurism” are being had as we speak, as of right now no NCAA competitor can make money off their name, image, or likeness. They are unable to have their services bid for in the free market. If they wish to transfer to another college, unlike every one of their peers in literally any other industry, they will be banned from competing for a calendar year.

But when you’ve got all those perks, why not sign away your chance to seek damages if harm becomes you when training to play football! And that’s exactly what’s happening at Ohio State as players are being asked to sign a waiver, somehow called the “Buckeye Pledge,” to return to “voluntary” athletics activities on campus.

OSU blog Eleven Warriors got a copy of the document in full, and the language is pretty stark:

“I 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,” the waiver reads. “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.”

It’s an attempt to hold harmless the university for whatever might happen in the future, and it’s very possibly not binding in court, but the fact they’re trying shows a P5 program trying to have its cake and eat it too: They aren’t employees, but if they leave they also lose their only chance to make a living playing football because if they did try to transfer... well that’s blocked by the NCAA by the year-in-residence rule.

Also ask any player not named Justin Fields how “voluntary” returning to campus is and I bet you get some interesting answers.

SMU is doing the same thing, as are the Indiana Hoosiers. So what happens when the virus breaks out amongst the athletes, as it has in some places already?

The hypocrisy is pretty rich here. Almost as rich as the coaches and administrators profiting off the unpaid labor they’re now asking to sign away their rights. But until NIL is handled, it’s just another day in the world of big-time college football.