Is Big Ten right to reverse decision and play this fall?
- The “Big Ten” Conference was formed in 1896 by the Universities of Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and Purdue and Northwestern universities. The University of Iowa and Indiana University were added in 1899 and Ohio State in 1912. By 2014, the conference expanded to 14 schools.
- On October 24, the Big Ten will begin its football season after the league unanimously voted to resume competition. The goal is for each team to play eight games in eight weeks.
- As of September 16, there have been 6.8 million coronavirus cases in the United States with 201,087 deaths.
- Most major sports have returned as of September 16, including Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, NHL, WNBA, PGA Tour, MLS and auto racing.
Having such high profile events as Big Ten football happening while the pandemic is still active sends the wrong message to student athletes and the wider public. The Big Ten’s decision to play this fall will work to weaken social distancing protocols and could lead to super spreader events. It sends the message that the pandemic is over, and it is safe to resume regular activities even though the number of coronavirus cases is still rising. The Big Ten’s own Dr. Sheldon Johnson predicted that if games are played, between 30 and 50 percent of athletes will contract the virus.
College athletes won’t have the same ability to train in a bubble, like some professional leagues. While players from the NBA were able to quarantine together effectively, college athletes will not have that chance. There are far too many college football players, and they all have to attend classes and other campus functions. Proof that this is unworkable can be found in the early spikes in cases at Kansas State, Clemson, LSU, and Texas Tech, among many others.
College football also draws too many people together to watch the games communally to be safe while the pandemic is spreading. Whether in a parking lot, at a bar, or someone’s house, spectators getting together to watch the games is too risky.
Music festivals, theaters, orchestras, and many other organizations that draw large crowds at their events have canceled their seasons out of respect for public safety. The Big Ten should be responsible and suspend their season until it is safe to play.
Because they have a solid plan for protecting health, the Big Ten is right to reverse their decision. They plan to adopt rigorous health precautions that include having players, trainers, coaches, and anyone else with reason to be on the field for practice and games to be required to take a daily antigen test. If a player tests positive for COVID-19, they'll be off the field for at least 21 days and will have to get a cardiac health clearance before resuming play.
The Big Ten plans to record the daily testing data and use that data, along with data concerning the rate of COVID in the general population, in decisions regarding practice frequency and game schedules. A 5% COVID positive rate for the team and a 7.5% positive rate in the community will halt practice and games for at least seven days. Another safety precaution being taken is that these games will not be played with a live audience. It's important to remember that permitting the season to be played matters to the students, especially those hoping for sports careers.
While young adults certainly can contract severe cases of COVID-19 that require hospitalization and even ventilation, it is typically associated with also being obese, having diabetes, or hypertension. A recent JAMA published study found that nearly half of the 2.7% of hospitalized young adults that died from COVID complications were morbidly obese. Fitness is among the best protections against severe cases of COVID-19. Sports players can thus send a positive fitness message to fans and encourage people to live healthier, more active lifestyles.