Football is a “super-spreader” of COVID-19 and therefore it’s too dangerous to have a season. Remember earlier this summer, when the sports media world was obsessively proclaiming this bad news? Well, after a month of NFL preseason camp, and two weeks of games at the high school and college level, there is little to no evidence that the sport of football is a super-spreader of the virus.
Look no further than the NFL, which last week had only one player test positive out of 17,519 administered from August 30 to September 5. On top of that, John Kryk, an NFL columnist, is reporting that of the 171 NFL players who’ve had COVID-19, zero have been diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart muscle inflammation and side-effect associated with COVID-19.
The devil is in the details. Yet somehow, the details are continuously excluded when the data reflects that we should be having football season. This played out again last week in the Big Ten when Penn State director of medicine Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli reportedly said that 30-35 percent of COVID-19-positive Big Ten athletes have myocarditis.
This headline got a lot of splash and clicks, but the reality is that the same doctor later recanted his story, adding that the myocarditis test hasn’t even been performed on every Big Ten athlete who tested positive. Yet the damage was done — the original misleading tweet received 10 times more interactions than the clarification.
FBS football kicked off last week, and while we don’t have COVID-19 testing results from those games, we do have them from the first week, and it’s very good news for players and fans. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, after beating Austin Peay 24-17 in the college football opener on August 29, the University of Central Arkansas reported zero positive cases from a round of testing done after the game. In all, 72 players, plus coaches and staff, were tested with negative results.
Over the weekend, we saw the first northeast college football game take place in 2020. Army, which blew out Middle Tennessee State 42-0, provided a glimpse of optimism that football can not only be played this year but also can be done with fans in the stands, as thousands of West Point cadets were present for their season opener.
As a fan of “big boy” football, I’m thrilled to see two of the competitive conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big-12 — kick off their 2020 campaigns this weekend. The Southeastern Conference is set to start later this month, but seven ranked teams will be in action on Saturday, including No 1. Clemson, No 5. Oklahoma, and No. 14 Texas. Arguably the best overall player in college football, Trevor Lawrence, will kick off his Heisman campaign versus Wake Forest Saturday night.
Over in the Big 12, Oklahoma plays Missouri State, but the most exciting thing about the Sooners this season will be watching to see if they can continue their unprecedented run of quarterback success stories. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler has big shoes to fill following three consecutive years of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts.
Then there’s Texas, who, let’s face it, hasn’t reached national relevancy since Colt McCoy left Austin. But in these trying times, I’ll gladly watch them play the University of Texas at El Paso in their season opener. It isn’t the normal action-packed Saturday of games we’re used to seeing in September, but it’s football!
So, with good news on the horizon for college football, it’s important to stop and assess what the sports media members who were openly rooting against a college football season failed to realize. The data from our opening weeks points out what has been obvious to many players, parents, and fans — that it’s tough to get COVID-19 in a COVID-19-free environment. Come game day, the football field is arguably the safest and cleanest environment anywhere.
As a former SEC player, I’m grateful that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey trusted his medical experts and not the sports media. Even when the media callously claimed that the SEC and any conference that played football this year would be sending kids out to die for the entertainment of CFB fans, Sankey didn’t let emotion become the driving force behind his decision.
Sankey also wisely built the entire SEC modified schedule around the idea that inevitably kids would return to campus and cases would peak, then quickly decline after an initial surge. This is exactly what we’re seeing happen at Notre Dame. In one week, Notre Dame is down from 241 active cases to 69.
The NFL and the NCAA testing guidelines, including extensive cardiac evaluations and rapid diagnostic testing leading up to gameday, are making an improbable season possible. Which makes you wonder: with the ACC and NFL set to kick off their season Thursday night in front of the whole country, and other conferences like the SEC AND Big 12 soon to follow, how many of these presidents and chancellors in the Big 10 and Pac 12 will be sitting and watching from afar and regret making their decision in haste?
That’s particularly as the evidence shows schools are maintaining a mostly “COVID-19 free” bubble for players, not the virus petri dish sports media virus salesmen have led you to believe. So enjoy your football, America! After 2020, you’ve earned it.