On August 11th, the PAC-12 postponed its season due to COVID-19. On that day, the US recorded 53,357 new cases of the novel coronavirus and the country seemed to be embarking on a slow decrease from its June peak, as reported by the New York Times. The LA Times reported that over a month later on September 24th, the PAC-12 CEO group voted to reverse the postponement and scheduled for the season to begin on November 6th. That day, the US recorded 45,505 cases and the country seemed to have “flattened the curve” at around 40,000 cases a day. Between the two votes, 38,000 Americans died of the disease. Thus, the question has to be asked whether the PAC-12 made the right decision to bring football back to fans. With increasing cases, nearly 130,000 on November 7th, and the Bruins already having a player test positive, it has to be argued that the PAC-12 has made the wrong decision. 

While the PAC-12 will play all its games without fans, one has to note that coronavirus is dangerous to everybody, even the athletes on the field. According to Dr. Eugene Chung, chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Sports and Exercise Council, COVID-19 can cause an irregular heartbeat, or even lead to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that recently caused Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez to miss the entire Major League Baseball season. Furthermore, myocarditis can occur in patients with asymptomatic to mild cases of the disease and the condition can cause sudden cardiac death during exercise. In addition to cardiac conditions, a study done by UCSF found that nearly a third of all young-adults may face severe COVID-19 due to medical vulnerability from risk factors such as smoking or obesity. With many linemen suffering from obesity and the dispersion of e-cigarettes on college campuses, these risk factors cannot be ruled out only because the players are college athletes.

“With  increasing cases, nearly 130,000  on November 7th, and the Bruins already having a player test positive, it has to be argued that the PAC-12 has made the wrong decision. “

 

Naturally, these concerns could be alleviated if the NCAAF, the premier college football league in the US, had shown that it could control the virus and protect football players from contracting it. Unfortunately, the opposite has proved to be the case; since the college football season started two months ago, 37 games have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus. Two weeks before the PAC-12 voted to restart their season, Jamain Stephens, a senior defensive lineman at California University in Pennsylvania, became the first college football player to die from complications related to the disease. The PAC-12 has stated that it will implement rigorous testing protocols, with weekly PCR tests and daily antigen testing, as well as cardiac monitoring for players who test positive. However, with high profile players and coaches, such as Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, continuing to test positive, it seems as if even the most stringent measures aren’t enough to protect the athletes. 

Not only is the PAC-12 putting players at risk, but they are also putting hopes, dreams, and health on the line for, a $66 million dollar payout from the College Football playoff. To be sure, the NCAA has given players the chance to opt-out of the season but, which player would want to jeopardize a potential NFL career or abandon their team because of some virus? When it comes down to it, players want to play as shown by the circulation of the #Weareunited players movement. Thus, in addition to enforcing strict testing protocols, masks for coaches, or cardiac health monitoring, it would seem intuitive to initiate education programs on coronavirus specifically tailored to college athletes. Combatting the pressure to support your team or achieving a draft position can only be done through convincing an entire team, otherwise peer-pressure will prevail. However, the focus on the players, who do represent a predictably lower risk group despite the aforementioned conditions, may leave out another important stakeholder: coaches. With the majority of coaches older than 50, they present a much higher risk group for the effects of coronavirus and are part of an age-group with a much higher death rate. Thus, while the conversation about safety has naturally and validly focused on players, increasingly common team outbreaks could also claim other victims.

Now, with players ready to wear those beautiful blue-gold jerseys again, it seems crazy that the PAC-12 has decided to march forward with its season. From the evidence of the most successful athletes suffering from long term coronavirus conditions such as myocarditis to the commonplace postponements and cancellations of games, it has to be concluded that players are not safe. The NCAAF has demonstrated that it is seemingly impossible to eradicate coronavirus cases within the college football community. With fans present at games, coaches not taking mask enforcements seriously and exponentially increasing COVID-19 cases in the US, the so-called virus fatigue could not be more evident. Increasingly lax attitudes could further harm college football, with game postponements reflecting poorly on the sport and costing millions in TV money. 

 Image by Steve Cheng, Bruin Report, via Wikimedia Commons

With fans present at games, coaches not taking mask enforcements seriously and exponentially increasing COVID-19 cases in the US, the so-called virus fatigue could not be more evident.

Furthermore, the long term effects that coronavirus can have on athletes are largely unknown. Therefore, the seemingly unnecessary exposure of players to transmission situations and the acceptance of fans in stadiums can only cause more issues than the ones currently substantiated. While the craving for normalcy across the nation is understandable, it has to be considered that seeing near-normal college football may diminish the understanding of the virus’s dangers. This normalcy could potentially decrease the number of attention people pay to restrictions, social-distancing, or mask-wearing and thus could lead to decreased caution and increased cases. In an increasingly dire situation with no improvement in sight, the PAC-12’s decision to fly athletes across the country seems puzzling and reveals a lack of judgment on the side of the PAC-12 CEO group. Thus, as COVID-19 continues to devastate the US, the PAC-12 has erred in bringing back football, as much as it may represent a needed get-away for fans. 

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