Dr. Richard Pan is a California State Senator representing Sacramento who has a bachelor’s degree in biophysics from Johns Hopkins, a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s in public health from Harvard. And he flat out doesn’t think it’s safe for college football to play this fall as the coronavirus pandemic persists across the United States.
“Until we get control over the virus in the community, I don’t see how you go forward with a college football season,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “It’s the same way that it’s probably hard for them to even resume college to start with. The risks are too high.” It’ll be governed by how fearful people are.”
Ultimately, Dr. Pan said, things will be governed by how fearful schools and players will ultimately be to go out on the field. That’s what happened with the MAC earlier on Saturday, when they pushed their conference’s season to the spring. Every other FBS conference still plans to play in the fall, while independent UConn canceled its season altogether. If there are positive tests and some players don’t want to get sick, they’re probably not going to be willing to play, he said.
It’s hard to do anything when you bring people together while COVID-19 isn’t under control, and football is not an exception to that, Dr. Pan said.
“If the virus is widespread in the community, then people are going to get infected and then people will be reasonably afraid and then people won’t participate. You see student athletes saying ‘wait a minute, I’m being put at risk.’”
And that risk wouldn’t just occur during the games themselves, but also extend to practices, scrimmages and sessions in the training or weight rooms.
“Think what they’re doing,” Dr. Pan said. “They’re all close up to each other in formations. They’re butting against each other, literally. There’s a lot of people all interacting with each other in close quarters for extended periods of time even if they’re outdoors. If you have a positive person there, there’s a high likelihood that the virus would be spreading among people at practice.”
Positive tests among top college football teams include eight UCLA players, 18 from the University of Illinois and a June outbreak at Clemson. A week ago, the SEC told its unpaid student athletes that positive coronavirus tests would be a given and that reality can’t be prevented.
“Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, “with the understanding there aren’t any guarantees in life.”
The lack of guarantees in life certainly extends to the virus itself. For people who have gotten and recovered from coronavirus, we still don’t know their long-term effects. Some have had persistent fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has been ruled out for the 2020 season after testing positive for COVID-19 and developing myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can potentially be quite dangerous. Health experts told the Washington Post that coronavirus can potentially cause lasting heart complications for athletes.
“You can’t play if you’re in those situation either,” Dr. Pan said.
It’s why several NFL prospects like University of Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley, University of Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons all opted out of the 2020 season and not risk their potential first round status in next year’s draft.
“Do they want to take the chance of getting infected and potentially ending their careers, not because they died but because of long-term complications from the disease,” Dr. Pan asked. “We know there are people who have symptoms for months afterwards and we don’t know if they’ll be permanent.”
Playing in a bubble can make many of these problematic and risky COVID situations better, but Dr. Pan said that the possibility is highly unlikely for college football. The student athletes for every team wouldn’t be able to interact with other students, professors or their families. And those players supposed to be studying and taking on a full course-load as well. The bubble is working for leagues like the NBA, and playing outside the bubble is proving to be difficult for Major League Baseball.
“They’re having lots of trouble when you have a positive and now it’s multiple players and now you’re postponing games and disrupting the schedule,” Dr. Pan said. “People wonder whether MLB can make it. And in baseball, they’re still more separated than they are in football.”
And even if college football tries to begin a season, you could see the season quickly grind to a halt of be delayed or postponed like MLB games, Dr. Pan said. And for players on teams that have had positive cases, do those teammates want to put themselves at risk while not making any money? Some Pac-12 and Big 10 players have made revenue demands if they want to play during this COVID season, and some American Athletic Conference athletes may want some form of hazard pay, per reports.
“Until we get control over the virus and get case numbers way, way down,” Dr. Pan said, “I just don’t see college sports starting up and staying up. Public health and student safety have to come first. And if you don’t make those your priorities in a very serious way, it will eventually come back to bite you anyway. The science is true, whether they believe it or not.”
Dr. Pan isn’t saying that the people who want college football played in the fall don’t believe the science behind the coronavirus pandemic, but the science has to be put front and center and people shouldn’t be put in danger in the first place.
“People need to have confidence, the players, staff, coaches and then eventually the fans,” he said, “that the NCAA is actually putting a priority on them.”
Everyone needs to do their part to slow down the disease and get case numbers down, Dr. Pan said.
“If you want to have college sports come back,” he said, “wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid gatherings. And the more people who aren’t doing that, the less likely we’re going to get cases under control.”