College football programs face ‘great uncertainty’ when considering solutions for COVID-19 outbreak

  • Notre Dame fans cheer for their team in the second half against Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

DALLAS — Texas made headlines recently when it revealed that 13 football players had tested positive for COVID-19 with 10 more in self-quarantine.

The Longhorns weren’t alone. Clemson had 23 players test positive, according to reports.

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Of course, that was only for the voluntary workouts and conditioning.

Now imagine the reaction and repercussions had similar tests results at any FBS school occurred in October or November, smack dab in the middle of the conference season.

That’s the question for individual conferences and schools across the country. Yes, it’s hypothetical. Yes, advancements may be made in COVID-19 treatment by then.

For now, it’s a great unknown especially with the continuing reports of positive tests during workouts.

“That’s the answer we don’t have yet,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said. “Even medical people don’t really have that yet.”

In the regular-season scenario where a team is facing a road game, does it stay or play? How much is impacted by the number of starters who tested positive and the position groups? What about future games with a self-quarantine of 14 days?

“We have to make first and foremost decisions that are in the best health interests of our student-athletes and staff. That’s going to be the first rule of thumb,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “More than likely, schools will make decisions on whether they can answer the bell or not.”

Bowlsby doesn’t necessarily see things coming down to a go or no-go decision during the season.

But he doesn’t rule out COVID-19 having a big impact — and not just in athletics.

“We could have individual institutions that have big flare-ups and decide that they’re going to close school,” Bowlsby said. “Or we could have schools that go right through and really don’t have any problems and get all 12 games in.

“I think the reality of dealing with some schools having 12 games and some schools having other numbers is fairly likely.”

Expect COVID-19 testing on a regular basis, Bowlsby said

How often?

“The answer is a lot,” Bowlsby said. “I think it will vary from institution to institution. I think we’ll be testing minimally once a week and probably at certain times more frequently than that.”

Everyone is still in reactive mode.

Longtime ACC Commissioner John Swofford characterized it as a holding pattern during a recent appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show. Assumptions about starting football as planned in September and playing a full season could quickly change, he said.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades, the chairman of the Big 12 ADs this season. “The message we’ve been trying to provide for our staff is this upcoming year is not going to be normal. So get that out of your mind.

“The way things have happened in the past will not be the way things happen this upcoming year. It will not be surprise me if we have to cancel a game.”

Rhoades offered the example at an unnamed school where one positive test resulted in 20 primary contacts.

Some wonder if all the precautions and plans will be enough.

Among those: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“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 told CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Bowlsby sees schools moving toward the regular season — subject to change.

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“I think my read is just what it has been. There is great uncertainty. It’s a linear process,” Bowlsby said. “We have to put one foot in front of another. So far the trains are on the tracks and we haven’t run into anything that has caused us to look at it and say, ‘This is a bad idea. We can’t keep moving forward.’

“That’s not to say we won’t get to a point where forward progress is not possible. If we get to that point, we’ll have some decisions to make.”

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