The inescapable fact in this cessation of Big Ten autumn sports is that presidents and chancellors, in expressing their uncertainties about medical issues, have painted themselves into a dark corner.
Consider: The chief reasons to push football into the spring are (1) myocarditis unknowns relating to long-term heart issues stemming from COVID-19, (2) difficulty of contact tracing and (3) community spread when students join athletes on campus.
You might add liability to that trio but, face it, liability today is liability six months from now. The option to take a case to court will always be there. Let’s stick with the science. And here we have no extended data — no likely resolution — on any of the main issues in the near future.
Health factors(1) Long-term myocarditis, clotting and lung concerns will remain long-term uncertainties until long-term studies provide a degree of certainty. Long-term resolutions, by definition, are not resolved within a few months.
(2) The necessity of contact tracing caused Northwestern to quarantine 37 football players for four days after one false positive reading July 31.
This is a forever problem. If one player tests positive after a football game, how many other players did he come into contact with? Contact tracing is a guessing game today, as it will be tomorrow and next February.
(3) You can’t have class without students, and you can’t run online classes forever. Somewhere along the line, athletes in the various sports will come into contact with others on campus ... classmates, boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, drinking buddies, etc.
Money problemsSo Big Ten presidents and chancellors, disregarding the assertions of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and others that athletes are safer inside the football structure than in the general population, have cited legitimate reasons to cancel out nearly $1 billion in conference-wide revenue (sans spring football, roughly $70 million on average for 14 programs) for reasons that will almost certainly remain pertinent in 2021.
And if the Big Ten follows the Pac-12 (they often appear to be in cahoots) by canceling basketball games prior to Jan. 1, that means no revenue for the first six months of the fiscal year. This for an Illini department that is already more than $300 million in debt.
Again, this is not to dispute the Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases or the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, or the advisability of the stop order. But where is it written that the reasoning will change in the next four months ... in time to release all those sports diverted to the spring and, oh my, basketball?
And if the Big 12, ACC, SEC and AAC go forward with their plans to play football — Duke infectious specialist Cameron Wolfe and the ACC medical experts skip over the myocarditis issue — how far will the Big Ten fall behind with everyone watching these teams dominate the Saturday TV slots?
Spring kickoff?Spring football is overloaded with questions.
Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says flatly: “No way.” He is speaking from a Buckeye viewpoint that projects half the regulars, if not more, bypassing play in favor of preparing for the NFL draft.
This opinion is furthered by Illini guard Kendrick Green, who is probably speaking on behalf of Brandon Peters, Josh Imatorbhebhe and others: “Me and a lot of my teammates are going to have to choose between the NFL draft and the spring season. It’s a tough choice. Have to keep all options but I was working for the ‘21 draft.”
Might the NFL be willing to push back its April 29-May 1 dates for its “feeder system?” Will Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, having settled minor mutinies, join Big Ten presidents in a reversal of field? Might there be a vaccine to suddenly come to the rescue?
Well, here’s the inescapable kicker: When Warren and his Gang of 14 zoom in for a winter-spring decision, they’ll have campus swarm on top of the same tracing, myocarditis-lung and liability (lawyers are already circling) uncertainties that influenced an August decision to bring fall sports to a screeching halt.
And you thought concussions were a problem.