Recent news that the Big Ten and Pac 12 would be canceling their fall football seasons, while the other three Power Five leagues continue to push forward, has predictably become yet another point of polarization. As you might expect, some of the people offering the hottest takes on the decision one way or another have little interest in the sport, simply using the debate over whether to play football as a convenient excuse to push a political agenda. Unfortunately, some of the sportswriters who cover the sport have taken the same tack.
First we have Dan Wolken, who is effectively accusing the schools in the three conferences who are still preparing to have a season of specifically seeking out medical advice that supports playing football.
COLUMN: America blew it on the coronavirus because we couldn't agree on facts and everyone went looking for medical experts to fit their ideological camps. Naturally, college football did the same thing. https://t.co/hV7X1i1R0U via @usatoday— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 11, 2020
This quote from about three paragraphs in is telling.
Let’s be clear about one thing. As profoundly sad as Tuesday was for athletes, coaches and fans, it’s quite possible, even probable, that the Big Ten and Pac-12 made the right call.
So, Dan believes that it’s “probable” that the Big Ten and Pac 12 made the correct decision, which of course means that the other three conferences probably made the wrong decision and looked for quacks in the medical field to provide them cover. As Dan notes, Dr. Cameron Burke, an infectious disease expert at Duke medical who is advising the ACC, thinks that football can be played with protocols in place, to which he responds:
Though understanding a novel virus and assessing all the risks requires some art in addition to the science, everyone invested in the sport deserves more of an explanation for what separates those expert opinions from the experts cited by other conferences.
The university presidents and athletic directors have had numerous conference calls and other communication around this issue. They simply haven’t shared all of the information with Dan, and that pisses him off.
Dan isn’t the only hot take artist out there, though. Darren Rovell decided to take it a step further and add a little “dumb southerner” flair.
Those conferences that chose to go ahead and play don’t have different data than those who didn’t.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 12, 2020
They have different risk tolerances often divided by geographical borders and political leanings. This manifests itself every day in this country.
Some wear masks. Some don’t.
Well, Darren has one leg up on Dan here: rather than accuse schools of seeking out doctors, he is correct that everyone has the same data. Instead, he has decided that schools in the southern based conferences are willing to kill football players because southerners are slack-jawed yokels, and also tend to vote for Republicans. We called him on it, and he doubled down.
I believe they believe that football is more important in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 and are willing to take more risk. You say that’s a stretch?— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 12, 2020
Yes, Darren, it is a stretch, and borders on slander. Never mind the fact that the three biggest college football stadiums are in the Big Ten.
Our own Erik Evans has already laid out an outstanding case for letting them play, but the decision from the Big Ten supposedly came down to two factors: risk of spreading the virus and concerns about the danger of physical exertion after recovery, ostensibly due to potential heart complications from the virus, chiefly myocarditis. On the former, it seems fairly clear that community spread among students on campus, who will not be regularly tested, is a bigger issue than spread among the football players who are. Players themselves have cited this as their chief concern, and to a man the players at places like Alabama have asserted that they feel safe playing football with the protocols established and executed by their athletic departments.
Potential heart complications are obviously concerning for anyone and athletes in particular, but again the myocarditis is a byproduct of contracting the virus. As Saban notes, the team has had about a 2% positivity rate since July 4, which is much lower than the national average and well within WHO’s guidelines to fully reopen economies. The football building, at this point, is one of the least likely places that a player will be exposed. And, should a player test positive for COVID-19, he will undergo a cardiac evaluation before clearance to return to play per SEC guidelines. We aren’t talking about a sprained ankle here, a player can’t just rush back to play with heart inflammation.
Besides, if physical exertion is such a concern, why is the Big Ten doing this?
Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said teams will get to stay on a 20-hour week in the fall with workouts and drill work. #BigTen— Sean Callahan (@Sean_Callahan) August 11, 2020
I guess a player having a heart attack while running gassers is better than in the third quarter, eh Barry?
If a player is going to be screened before returning to strenuous exercise, then playing and practicing is just as safe as offseason conditioning. In fact, it could be said that there is more stress on the heart during training activities than in games, where full speed action accounts for about 18 minutes of the three-plus hours on the field. In-season practices are generally lighter than offseason workouts as well, in order to allow bodies to recover before the next game.
At this point there is far more logic in the wait-and-see approach of the Big 12, SEC, and ACC. When students descend on campus, it is possible that enough players will be infected with the virus that it’s difficult to field a team. If that happens, then games and perhaps seasons will be canceled, and what happens in the football building will not have been the reason. It isn’t inevitable though, and with twice weekly testing that won’t allow for anyone to get away with hiding symptoms, players will have the incentive of playing on Saturday to make sure they wear their masks and social distance.
The players spoke out in a big way in the #WeWantToPlay movement. Three conferences have decided to give them the opportunity to show just how committed they are to the cause.
Nothing more, nothing less, and geography nor politics have a damn thing to do with it.