Five SMU student athletes test positive for COVID-19; school asks all athletes to sign waiver

Five SMU student athletes tested positive for COVID-19, the school announced on Wednesday.

Student athletes just started returning to campus this week and all were presented with a waiver to sign releasing the school from liability when it comes to coronavirus.

The athletic department said 75 student athletes across multiple sports were tested and all five who tested positive were asymptomatic.

The risk of contracting the illness is exactly what the school says it’s trying to address with the waiver. The school is among the first in the nation using such a waiver, following Ohio State University and Indiana University.

“The waiver is likely enforceable,” said appellate attorney Chad Ruback. “The waiver specifically states that if a student signs it, he or she will not lose scholarship money, he or she will not lose any eligibility.”

Ruback said that language clarifies the student athlete acknowledging he or she is not signing out of duress.

“Texas courts generally enforce waivers of liability, except when those waivers are signed under duress. If a student is told sign this or else you will never play football again, that would be signing under duress and the waiver would likely not be enforceable,” Ruback said.

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SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart said in a statement the university came to the conclusion the acknowledgement form was the “best practice among peer athletics programs” and student athletes should “acknowledge that there is risk” during a pandemic.

Ruback said the bottom line is universities are businesses wanting to mitigate risk and must weigh the pros and cons of the decision like everyone else.

“There’s a balance here. On one hand, asking students to sign a waiver could protect the school from liability. I believe would protect SMU from liability. On the other hand, some might think less of a school for asking students to sign a waiver. Just like some people might not want to eat at a restaurant that required them to sign a waiver ahead of dinner,” Ruback said.

SMU said the five student athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 will be in isolation for two weeks and monitored daily with tele-health appointments and receive meal deliveries. The university is also doing contact tracing.

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