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NCAA says schools cannot require COVID liability waivers

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
NCAA president Mark Emmert.

The NCAA said Wednesday that schools are no longer permitted to require athletes to sign COVID-19 liability waivers.

Determined by the board of governors, the ban was included among a number of requirements in order for fall sports to be staged in the coming months.

Member schools are to also cover coronavirus-related medical expenses for athletes and keep them on scholarship if they choose to opt out of their season due to concerns over the virus.

Liability waivers sparked a public backlash earlier this summer. When athletes returned to campuses for voluntary workouts, they were asked by schools to sign various documents before using athletic facilities.

Legal experts raised concerns that they could be used by the schools as a form of liability protection.

In June, Ohio State had football players and those from other sports sign a “Buckeye Pledge” before resuming workouts at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and other on-campus athletics facilities.

OSU’s pledge got the attention of federal lawmakers.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, wrote a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert that referenced the “Buckeye Pledge” and remarked that “these broad liability waivers are not only legally dubious, they are morally repugnant.”

In subsequent testimony in the U.S. Senate, former Ohio State president Michael V. Drake said the document was not viewed by the school as a liability waiver or a legal document.

“I don’t support a waiver or an assumption of risk in a legal sense,” Drake said. “What we want to do is make sure people are behaving in a responsible fashion to protect themselves and their community.”

Drake was on Capitol Hill as the chairman of the NCAA’s board of governors, meeting with lawmakers largely for a hearing on name, image and likeness issues before concerns over COVID-19 protocols.

Along with asking signees to acknowledge the potential risks around COVID-19, the “Buckeye Pledge” required them to follow various health and safety protocols, including reporting coronavirus symptoms, staying home in sick and practicing social distancing.

College Athlete Unity, an advocacy group representing more than 1,000 Big Ten football players, had called for a prohibition on COVID-19 liability waivers when it released a series of proposals Wednesday.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman