COVID-19 Spikes Halting College Football Practices Shows Need For Schedule Flexibility
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The past week, the biggest news from the college football world was the in-fighting between the Big Ten with players and parents of some schools sending letters and starting petitions to urge to resume play.
However, the more important story is that schools that are pursuing fall football is the return of students to campus combined with actual full padded practices. That combination, mostly the former has forced multiple schools to stop practices for a bit of time. According to KSL Unrivaled, it is only a matter of time before games start getting canceled.
This past week, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Appalachian State, and others have put a stop to football practices as there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases on these campuses.
Appalachian State University says in an email to students, faculty and staff that it has identified a COVID -19 cluster associated with the football team.
11 total: seven students and four staffers.
App State AD Doug Gillin has suspended football practice until further notice.
— Ethan Joyce (@EthanJoyceWSJ) August 19, 2020
BREAKING: UNC Athletics is immediately suspending all athletic activities until at least 5 p.m. Thursday.
This is a developing story – check this thread soon for more information.
— The Daily Tar Heel (@dailytarheel) August 19, 2020
As for the Irish, they have five players who tested positive and six more are in self-isolation and have moved to online classes for the next two weeks. That also is a similar move the Tar Heels made after multiple outbreaks when students returned to campus. The athletes for each school are remaining on campus to train and prepare for its season.
Considering these types of outbreaks, perhaps the idea of having students on campus in order to play is flawed on two fronts. First, everyone acknowledges that NCAA athletes are not the same as everyone else, specifically football athletes, and second, with only athletes on campus it would insulate them from the rest of the students and reduce the spread of COVID-19 amount athletes and non-athletes who are doing online instruction.
Continuing Football A Good Idea?
Perhaps the four FBS conferences that pushed off football this fall were on the right track. Also, it is not surprising that universities and colleges are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Not all of them are related to the football team and this is largely for precautionary reasons but if students are staying on campus all year then there could be this whac-a-mole approach to this virus on campus and within the athletics departments.
There are so many variables and students coming back to class added an extra layer of uncertainty and something athletic departments can not control. KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell notes why most of these schools and leagues built-in schedule flexibility, including starting the season in the latter half of September.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) August 20, 2020
“Well, I think that everyone felt like there had to be some flexibility in whatever you did. It’s why they went to conference-only it’s why they changed that start time. It’s why they built in all this flexibility in the event that something like this happened,” Mitchell said. “I think most of these schools anticipated this could be a possibility.
“So, if something happens in the school, they’ll shut everything down. I think that’s a commonly held belief by health officials, not by these schools in these programs, but it’s like the people behind all of this who are making all these decisions are saying look, ‘If you have people in the classroom and they get sick, then sports is just another classroom.’ “
This is where the Big Ten and Pac-12 come in with their thinking that why have a start and stop mentality toward football because it just might not be worth the effort to do that. So, those two leagues plus the MAC and Mountain West are going forward and preparing for an uninterrupted spring football season.
“I just think no matter how they say it, that they’re gonna have, they’re gonna have issues come up, there’s just no way this is gonna be a clean go through the fall and nothing’s gonna go up and down,” Mitchell added. “I think it’s gonna be an up and down [year]. It’s like we kind of went through this spike and it now feels like we’ve been in a lull here for a while and I wouldn’t be surprised, if it starts to jump back up, especially with everyone going back to school.”
There is no doubt the college football season will see weeks like this where teams shutdown practices for a few days, or even a week, to be able to get a control on who either has contracted COVID-19 or were need to quarantine due to being in the proximity of someone who tested positive.
It all comes down to mitigating risk. Having more people around is a higher risk, allowing students to leave campus for a week like Oklahoma is a risk which resulted in multiple players testing positive, and having students on campus is a risk with just the influx of people around.
This conversation who shuts down practice will continue all season long and there is a reason there is flexibility built into these conferences schedules which is there to account if teams have to push back a game due to a spike of COVID-19 from the team.