What’s the rush?
That was my immediate takeaway amid the rumors that the Pac-12 is going to cancel its football season.
That was the question I pondered when I saw a tweet from the Dan Patrick show, which reported the conference will vote to shut it all down Tuesday.
This makes more sense for the Big Ten, which was slated to start its season in early September. But the first Pac-12 game wasn’t scheduled till September 26.
Surely they’ve got more time to think this through, no?
If it is ultimately deemed that the safety risks outweigh the potential rewards of a college football season, then, yes, it should all come to a halt. If the possibility of major health complications cancels out the passionate pleas from players and coaches, then we’ll try this in 2021.
In the meantime, shouldn’t the Pac-12 school presidents take a little extra time to listen before making a decision?
They could listen to players for starters.
Over the weekend, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence became the front man for the #WeWantToPlay hashtag, as he tweeted “Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game that all of us love. Not divide and argue. There is a way forward.”
Several other players from the Power 5 conferences ended up creating a joint statement that expressed their desire to play this season, including Penei Sewell, Johnny Johnson III, Jevon Holland of Oregon, Nick Ford of Utah and Dallas Hobbs of Washington State.
When Pac-12 players listed demands under the “We are United” movement earlier in the month, administrators took notice. This movement deserves equal attention.
They could listen to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who pushed back on the idea of making a swift decision by tweeting: “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.”
The SEC has seemed less reserved about resuming play than other conferences have, so perhaps Sankey’s words shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But is the advice wrong? How many things might our nation’s decision-makers done differently had we known more about this virus?
Patience typically pays off.
They could also listen to Dr. Gregory Stewart, a professor of sports medicine at Tulane who serves as the university’s chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Stewart is not one to trivialize the risks of the coronavirus.
Despite the extremely low COVID-19 death rate among college-aged adults, there are still potential long-term effects on athletes’ hearts, among other organs. But in studying contact tracing, he found that student-athletes who contracted the coronavirus weren’t doing so on the field or in the weight room — they were doing so at house parties, beaches and bars.
“Let’s say we shut down fall athletics. I’m not going to know where you are on a Saturday night,” Stewart said. “Right now, everyone’s watching each other and making sure they’re doing everything right.”
Stewart added that, because of access to medical care and testing, athletes were far safer on campus than off. He also thinks that, due to liability concerns, shutting down college sports is as much a legal issue as it is a medical issue.
Take Washington, for example. Since UW began welcoming athletes back to campus in mid-June, there have been more than 700 coronavirus tests on 247 athletes and nine positive cases — according to athletic director Jen Cohen. Of those nine cases, just two remain active.
But Stewart isn’t the only doctor with thoughts on the matter. Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the director of the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology, isn’t so sure about progressing with college sports. His chief concern involves a rare heart condition called myocarditis, which has been found in at least five Big Ten athletes, according to ESPN.
Limited studies have shown an increased frequency of myocarditis in patients with COVID-19. Drezner told ESPN this “made the bar higher” for a fall sports return, “and it could be we don’t get there.”
And then there is Utah team doctor Dave Petron, who said on ESPN radio Monday that the Pac-12 medical advisers will recommend stopping contact at this time. Does that mean for the rest of the season?
“If we can test on a regular basis … I think we can play college football,” Petron said. “But right now … we’re not ready for that.”
No matter what the Pac-12 presidents decide, they will draw praise in some corners and be panned in others. And if they do shut it down, it’s quite possible they will face this same dilemma come spring.
All we know right now: Health is paramount. But risk is unavoidable. At some point, the Pac-12 is going to have to weigh those truths and make a tough, unenviable decision.
It just doesn’t have to be right now.