08/10 17:34 CDT Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge
Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
President Donald Trump on Monday joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches
calling to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown as
supporters pushed the premise that the players are safer because of their sport.
There was speculation two of the five most powerful conferences --- the Big Ten
and the Pac-12 --- might call off their fall seasons and explore the
possibility of spring football.
The Mountain West became the second conference in the NCAA's Football Bowl
Subdivison to do just that, joining the Mid-American Conference in giving up
hope on playing any sports in the fall. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled
fall sports, too, becoming the first school in college football's highest tier
to break from its league; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with
plans to play.
A Big Ten spokesman said no votes on fall sports had been taken by its
presidents and chancellors as of Monday afternoon, and the powerful
Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall
"Best advice I've received since COVID-19: ?Be patient. Take time when making
decisions. This is all new & you'll gain better information each day,'" SEC
Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. "Can we play? I don't know. We
haven't stopped trying."
A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season, with
Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among a group posting to Twitter with
the hashtag WeWantToPlay. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.
"The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be
cancelled," the president tweeted.
That didn't help the Mountain West. A person involved in the decision told The
Associated Press that the conference had postponed all fall sports to spring
because of concerns about COVID-19. The person spoke to the AP on condition of
anonymity because the conference was still preparing an official announcement.
Old Dominion dropped out earlier in the day. The Virginia school, a relative
newcomer to major college football, canceled fall sports less than a week after
C-USA set out a plan to play a football season.
"We concluded that the season -- including travel and competition -- posed too
great a risk for our student-athletes," ODU President Broderick said.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have
shown that players can be safe after they return to school. He cited Michigan's
COVID-19 testing stats, including 11 positives out of 893 administered to the
members of the football program and none in the last 353 tests.
"I'm not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players
desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks
since our players returned to campus on June 13," Harbaugh wrote.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost made similar claims and said if the Big Ten doesn't
play, that might not stop the Cornhuskers.
"Our university is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that
looks like and how that looks," Frost said. "We want to play no matter who it
is or where it is."
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football
theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.
"Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be
completely safe --- that's absolutely true; it's always true," he wrote. "But
the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than
what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn't a
Michigan's situation falls in line with what many medical staffers are seeing
on their campuses.
"We've seen it spread thus far within roommates and outside of our facilities
primarily. We haven't seen a lot of spread within athletic facilities
themselves," said Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director at Kansas State.
Doctors and epidemiologists outside of college sports are less convinced that
big-time college football programs decrease the risk of getting and spreading
"This is a very convenient, self-serving narrative for people who want college
football to happen whether to score political points or for revenue purposes,"
said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist with Oxford College at Emory University.
"But I've yet to see anyone of them do it with actual data.
"Estimate the risk for me of what would have happened with these students were
they not to play college football versus what's going to happen to them if they
do? That's actually a really complicated, really difficult question to answer.
I don't think we know for sure."
The number of confirmed infections in the U.S. is more than 5 million, the most
in the world.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for
Health Security, said only an NBA-type bubble can really protect college
athletes more than the general population and keep the season from being
disrupted by the virus.
"If we're going to try and minimize the risk of the virus, it's really that the
setting of the country as whole is the issue, not really actually the sport,"
said Adalja, a member of the NCAA's COVID-19 advisory panel.
The number of cases per day has declined recently, but not for long enough to
say the pandemic has been controlled, said Lucia Mullen, an epidemiologist and
analyst for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.
Mullen hears echos of the nation's debate over reopening schools in the case
made by football players and coaches. Structure and support is healthy for
young people, she said.
"The worry with the U.S. is, and this is something I put to the sports as well,
we all do want sports back, but it's going to be incredibly aggravating if we
try and bring it back and we have to cancel the season because it's not
working," she said. "And that it delays us for yet another year and we can't
have any sports for the rest of the year because our virus outbreak is too
Adalja said the window for a college football season is closing.
"Because of the fact that we cannot solve these simple problems in a larger
community of testing, tracing and isolating," Adalja said. "If we can't solve
those problems there, it's going to be very hard to do that in a college campus
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