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Sunday, April 14, 2024

College football enters a dangerous era

With COVID-19 cases increasing, the NCAA must be cautious

There was always doubt that the NCAA could even start a college football season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Adamant to hold a season in the fall, conferences like the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Big 12 tried everything in their power to proceed normally. Being that they are home to some of the biggest college football teams in the country, the losses they would endure proved to be enough to try to have a season at all costs. With many universities across the country cutting sports programs due to the major financial losses, missing a football season could have doomed a lot of the NCAA schools as the sport serves as the majority of athletic revenue. So, they gave a green light to schools to hold their college football season as normal. 

Rather than implement strict guidelines to follow throughout the season, the NCAA stated that testing had to be done once a week among other general rules. Their lack of protocols to combat the virus, however, allowed conferences to dictate what rules the programs needed to follow. Initially, conferences like the SEC tested three days before the day of their game, but soon after, they followed the ACC and Big 12 who began testing three times a week. The Big Ten and Pac-12, who returned after initially cancelling their fall season, began to conduct daily testing. These decisions could influence the other conferences to follow suit as well, as many schools across the country have begun to feel the effects of the pandemic.

With some schools having as many as 110 student-athletes on the football team, it is clear why it has become so difficult to return to play. With everyone being in such close proximity to each other, it has been difficult to fully secure the health and safety of the student-athletes. Even with less travel, the risk is still there for everyone and there is only so much a program can do to stop it. It is impossible to hold an NBA-type bubble for collegiate sports because of the high number of teams and players involved. All the NCAA can do is hope for the best. 

As of Oct. 16, there were already 47 games cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19, and in the 10th week since games resumed, there were 10 games postponed. Right off the bat, high-profile teams were having to move around their scheduling because of positive tests. Teams like Virginia, LSU, Virginia Tech, FAU and many others have suffered massive outbreaks among their program that has put their activities on pause for at least a week. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had some difficulties with their returns as Arizona, Utah, Purdue and Wisconsin all had to postpone games in the early weeks of their conference play. Alabama head coach Nick Saban contracted the virus in October, and the team was forced to pause their activities for a couple of days. Projected No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence, also contracted the virus and was forced to sit out two games while he recovered. There have been countless examples, but with so much to lose, the show must go on one way or another. 

An aspect that has become an apparent issue in certain schools is something that not only affects the team, but the university as well. With many schools allowing a percentage of fans to attend the games, there have been massive upticks in positive cases within their college communities. Georgia University was under fire back in early October because it had appeared that there were a lot of fans packed into the stadium, many of whom were not socially distanced or wearing masks. It is mandatory that fans both wear masks and socially distance, but with upwards of 20,000 people in attendance, it is extremely difficult to keep track of every single person to make sure they follow the rules. 

Communities where these universities are located have also been affected by these games. The CDC reported that out of the eight states with the highest infection rates, seven of them are home to SEC schools who allow a number of fans to be in attendance. In the majority of those communities classified as college towns, there has been a massive, uncontrollable spread of COVID-19. The lack of rule-following continues to affect a growing number of people. Still, some head coaches like Florida’s Dan Mullen are dismissive of the pandemic that has killed over 237,000 people in the U.S. With Florida having the ability to hold 20% capacity, Mullen believed that it was time for more. 

“I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully the university administration decides to let us pack the Swamp against LSU,” Mullen said in October. “I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor. The governor has passed a rule that we’re allowed to pack the Swamp and have 90,000 in the Swamp to give us the home-field advantage.”

In reference to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowing for stadiums to be at full capacity, Mullen believed that regardless of the pandemic, it was more important to hold home-field advantage since it was now allowed than to continue taking certain precautions. Later that same week, the University of Florida paused all football-related activities as Mullen and 20 other members of the program tested positive for the virus.

Part of the profit that schools make from football comes from fans, so having even some in attendance seems to be a priority. Nonetheless, schools fail to realize the effect it is having on their community as a whole. 

“It’s really dangerous,” Thomas Huard, chief clinical laboratory advisor at the Texas-based Campus Health Project told Sports Illustrated. “It’s going to create spread. People don’t social distance even though the seats are spread apart. You go to the bathroom, hot dog stand, beer stand. I think it’s a disaster.”

The NCAA is hoping that nothing devastating happens to all of their programs, but they fail to see how disastrous it really is for the communities that have more leeway. Even with protocols in place, programs are finding out that it is impossible to try to control the thousands of people involved in the weekly games. As cases continue to rise and financial implications loom, not only this year, but possibly until 2023, the NCAA and colleges across the country are trying to find ways to survive and finish the season strong. The question is, at what cost? 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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