From Inside the Red Raiders
As student-athletes return to campus and COVID-19 testing ramps up, a rise in positive cases has seeded doubt in the public sphere about the fate of the 2020 college football season. However, conference commissioners, administrators and decision-makers polled by 247Sports remain consistent in their belief — both publicly and privately — that a fall season is still in the cards.
Many administrators are not actively entertaining a delay to the season, several sources in two Power 5 conference offices said.
“I remain cautiously optimistic that college football will be played this fall, and that we will be able to do so in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to the sport,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement provided to 247Sports. “We have world-class infectious disease and public health experts ensuring that we are able to do our best to control that which is in our control in the safest possible manner.”ADVERTISING
The Pac-12 began allowing its student-athletes to return to its 12 campuses June 15, though some, like USC, didn’t begin the on-boarding process until Wednesday. The Southeastern Conference allowed players to return June 8. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is aligned with Scott’s approach and is “focused on playing the 2020 football season as scheduled beginning Labor Day Weekend,” an SEC spokesperson told 247Sports.
Caveats, however, are not in short order as cases continue to rise in most states. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, questioned whether football will be played this fall during an interview with CNN last week. “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci said at the time. Fauci, however, admitted this week it’s not up to him to make such decisions. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday it will begin a shortened season in late July.
The rise in infections in the population — numbers compared to one week ago have increased in 26 states — has also spread into the world of sports, just as college football players returned to campuses for voluntary workouts over the last three weeks. An outbreak of 23 infected players at Clemson grabbed headlines last week and nearly 30 players on the LSU roster were quarantined, according to reports. Three programs (Boise State, Houston and Kansas State) have paused voluntary workouts amid outbreaks among their student-athlete population. Most of the cases among college football players are asymptomatic.
The virus is also spreading in football meccas like the state of Texas, which reported more than 5,000 cases in a single day for the first time Tuesday.
Nearly 200 players across the country have contracted the virus, according to numbers gathered by 247Sports, but most FBS schools have opted to not release data publicly. Much like the general population, schools are still trying to understand the virus and how to best protect themselves from infection and spread.
The United States reported at least 34,720 new cases Tuesday, the third-highest number since the outbreak hit the country in March. Fauci told Congress on Tuesday the surge of cases over the last week is “disturbing.”
For now, it appears wearing face masks and avoiding large gatherings is the new normal. Workouts continue at most football programs and there is hope for therapeutic treatment and the ultimate endgame: a vaccine. Fauci believes a vaccine could be available as late this year or early 2021, saying it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” a vaccine is made available. States began re-opening in May after stay-at-home orders were commonplace across the country, but it remains to be seen if the step-by-step phases continue or stay-at-home orders return as cases surge and new hotspots emerge.
More than 2.3 million Americans have been infected and 121,279 have died from COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, according to John Hopkins University. Twenty-one states have flattened or declined in cases over the last two weeks, according to John Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the NCAA Division I Council approved last week a six-week preseason plan ramping up to the start of the college football season. The first of four phases includes voluntary workouts, which were allowed beginning June 1. Mandatory workouts can begin July 13, with meetings and walkthrough practices slated for July 24. Most preseason camps will begin Aug. 7, though some will be allowed to start earlier if their games are played in Week 0 (no sooner than 29 days before a team’s first game).
The College Football Playoff is planning for an on-start time to its postseason January 1. Many college campuses have shortened their academic calendar, with in-person classes ending before Thanksgiving and fall breaks in anticipation of a potential second wave of the virus as temperatures drop across the country.
The message from the NCAA down through the conference offices and front offices of athletic departments across the country is clear: hope is strong but they are also preparing to adjust their game plans.
“Of course, while we are learning more about the virus every day, there are many elements outside of our control,” Scott said. “For this reason nothing is certain and there is an absolute premium on not cutting any corners when it comes to health and safety.”3COMMENTS
One message conferences have been consistent is asking players and staff to wear protective face masks in public and inside athletic facilities. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday he expects the Tigers’ sick and quarantined players to be OK, but stressed they must wear masks when in public.
“Obviously, something happened,” Orgeron said on a local ESPN radio station. “I think that our team is getting the best care that they possibly can. This is the new lay of the land, it’s something that we have to work through. I think our guys are doing a very good job of adjusting and we should be fine.”