Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said wide receiver Kassidy Woods' removal from team activities stemmed from Woods deciding to opt out of the season for health concerns, rather than his involvement with the Pac-12 player unity movement.
Chun told ESPN that Woods sent him a text message on Saturday stating his decision to opt out because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Woods also mentioned his involvement in the Pac-12 unity movement and asked to speak with Chun.
"His health and safety is our No. 1 priority," Chun said Monday night. "For an athletic director, everything else after that is a moot point. I'm not talking you out of it. At that point, it goes 100%, 'We support and we honor your decision, we respect your decision.'"
Woods told ESPN earlier Monday that he thought he could opt out and still take part in team workouts and other activities, but not travel and participate in games during the season. The redshirt sophomore was surprised when Washington State coach Nick Rolovich told him he could no longer be involved with team activities.
Washington State says two football players have opted out of the season for health concerns. They will remain on scholarship this year.
"If we were opting out for practice, we never would have come back to campus at all," Woods said. "They're trying to misconstrue our words and the whole point of us opting out and why we're opting out. I was just saying I'm not going to play in any of the games. [Rolovich] told me that I couldn't be around the team at all, he cleaned out my locker, and then he took me off the team group chat. His actions showed that I was cut from the team.
"That's what the protocol is when you cut somebody from the team."
Woods added that Washington State had never clearly stated its opt-out policy, saying, "We're the only school in the Pac-12 that's doing that."
Chun on Monday clarified the school's stance on medical opt-outs, and explained why those who choose to opt out would not be allowed to participate in team activities.
"If you have health and safety concerns, de-densification is one of the main tenets of moving forward in COVID, so taking one body out does make a difference, and the liability of having someone in the weight room that has expressed health and safety concerns is as real as it gets for an athletic department," Chun said. "... For this student-athlete's health and safety, we needed to remove him from the locker room, from all team-related activities, because he has health and safety concerns relative to COVID-19. We cannot put him in congregant settings."
Woods on Saturday afternoon called to inform Rolovich that he was opting out of the 2020 season because he has sickle cell trait and would be at an enhanced risk because of the pandemic. According to a recording of the call obtained by the Dallas Morning News and other media outlets, Rolovich told Woods he had no issue with the reasoning but then asked whether Woods would be part of the unity movement, a group of Pac-12 players threatening to opt out of this season if the league does not meet its set of demands. Woods said he would be supporting the movement.
"That's going to be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff," Rolovich said, according to the Morning News. "The COVID stuff is one thing. But joining this group ... it's going to be different. If you say, 'I'm opting out 'cause of COVID and health and safety,' I'm good. But this group is going to change how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school."
Rolovich in a statement Monday night said he wanted to pinpoint the reasoning behind Woods' decision to opt out.
"I wanted to clarify with Kassidy that his decision was based on health and safety and reaffirm our policy related to COVID-19 and the assurance of his scholarship," Rolovich's statement reads in part. "Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I'm proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons."
Rolovich also noted that his conversation with Woods took place before the Pac-12 players' group released its statement and demands on Sunday. Woods said he and a teammate first began discussing the group with Rolovich several weeks ago.
"Our coach put it in the team group chat, and was just like, 'Any other players want to talk about this? Let me know,'" Woods said. "He seemed like he was pretty OK with it. We just told him how many people we talked to on the team who are potentially going to opt out and athletes from across the Pac-12 were going to opt out due to health concerns. Because there had been no set-in-stone protocol, measurements, to ensure our safety while we're playing. [The conversation] was two or three weeks ago. He had some knowledge of it. He just didn't know if we were part of [the movement] or not at that time."
Chun said Rolovich was trying to be proactive with the players while not knowing the full details of the campaign.
"Rolo is not the coach that's going to bury his head in the sand and wait," Chun said. "He's trying to have honest conversations with his guys. No one had any idea what their concerns or demands were until Sunday."
Chun said Washington State will honor all scholarships for athletes who choose to opt out of the season specifically because of the player unity movement, and not a specific health concern. He also sent all WSU athletes a message Monday reiterating the school's opt-out policy.
"It's something that has been expressed to them multiple times," Chun said, "but if one person didn't really understand it, the assumption is there may be a second, so that's why we put it out. If you have a COVID-19-related health concern about participating this year, your scholarship will be honored. We are honoring your decision by you opting out."
Woods remains in school at Washington State but doesn't expect he or his teammate who also opted out will return to the team.
"It's been a tough year all around," Woods said. "It's crazy how our coaches can just switch up on us. We haven't done anything to this program to hurt it at all. We've been nothing but a service to it. ... The damage has already been done. We haven't really thought that far ahead, but we know we won't be playing another down here."