Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA SPORT_NFL

LSU trio heads list of players opting out of this season

LSU knew all along it would have to try to defend its national title without Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow and four other first-round draft picks.

It turns out they’re also missing a few notable players who weren’t in the most recent draft. All-America wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. and defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. have announced they won’t be playing this season.

“The competitor in me badly wants to play the season and go to war with my brothers, but during this time with so much going on, this is what’s best for my family,” Chase said Monday in a Twitter post announcing his decision.

Chase didn’t specifically say in the tweet that he would be entering the 2021 NFL draft, but he’s regarded as a likely first-round pick. He won the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver and set Southeastern Conference records for touchdown catches (20) and yards receiving (1,780) last year.

Vincent said he was opting out to begin training for the draft, while Farrell said he plans to play for LSU in 2021.

These three guys from LSU aren’t the only notable college players opting out of this season as college football attempts to hold a season amid a pandemic.

Even before the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they were postponing their seasons, two of the Big Ten’s top playmakers — Purdue’s Rondale Moore and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman — had indicated they were opting out.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has been hit particularly hard. Four first-team Associated Press all-ACC players from last year have decided not to play this season.

Here’s a list of some notable players opting out. Although multiple reports have indicated Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks and Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell have opted out, they’re not on this list because their schools haven’t confirmed whether they won’t be playing.

CALEB FARLEY, CB, VIRGINIA TECH

Farley earned first-team all-ACC honors, led the conference in passes defended (16) and tied for second in the league in interceptions (four) last season. Farley announced in late July that he wouldn’t play this season and would instead prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. Farley cited the “uncertain health conditions and regulations” while noting that his mother had died in January 2018. Virginia Tech still returns one starting cornerback from last season in Jermaine Waller. The Hokies also added Illinois State transfer Devin Taylor, who led the Missouri Valley Conference in pass breakups last year.

ELI JOHNSON, C, MISSISSIPPI

Johnson started all 12 games for Ole Miss at center and allowed only one sack in 377 pass blocks. Johnson announced Aug. 16 on Twitter that he was opting out of this season. Reports have surfaced since that Johnson has entered the transfer portal. Ben Brown, who started all 12 games at right guard last season, has been working out at center during the preseason with Johnson out.

GREGORY ROUSSEAU, DE, MIAMI

Rousseau is sitting out this season to prepare for the draft after collecting 15 ½ sacks as a redshirt freshman last year to rank second among all Football Bowl Subdivision players, behind only Ohio State’s Chase Young. Rousseau said last month that his “mother is a nurse on the front lines and has first hand witnessed the horrors of this terrible pandemic and I want to ease their concerns.” Miami still should have a quality pass rush with UCLA transfer Jaelan Phillips and Temple transfer Quincy Roche, who produced 13 sacks for the Owls last season.

SAGE SURRATT, WR, WAKE FOREST

Surratt had accumulated 1,001 yards receiving to lead all Power Five players last year when he left the Virginia Tech game with an apparent shoulder injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Surratt announced last month he would forgo the upcoming season and prepare for the draft “due to the many uncertainties and risks associated with COVID-19.” Surratt’s absence leaves Wake Forest without its top five receivers from last season as well as quarterback Jamie Newman, who transferred to Georgia.

JAYLEN TWYMAN, DT, PITTSBURGH

Twyman had 12 ½ tackles for loss and 10 ½ sacks this season as he earned second-team Associated Press All-America honors. Twyman said last month his decision not to play this season and focus on the draft “isn’t about COVID-19, but about his family’s needs, now and in the future.” Even without Twyman, Pittsburgh should have a solid defensive line featuring seniors Keyshon Camp, Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver.

CHANDLER WOOTEN, LB, AUBURN

Wooten recorded 27 overall tackles and 4 ½ tackles for loss last season while earning plenty of playing time in a reserve role. In announcing that he wouldn’t play this season, Wooten said he will become a father in November and that his top priority is the safety of his family. “Unfortunately, playing this season was ultimately not a risk that I was wiling to take.” Wooten is planning to take a redshirt and play for Auburn in 2021. Auburn still appears to be in good shape at linebacker with K.J. Britt, Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe returning.

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

NCAA doc sees narrow path to play as Fields starts petition

The NCAA’s chief medical officer says there is a narrow path to playing college sports during the coronavirus pandemic and if testing nationwide does not improve, it cannot be done.

Meanwhile, one of college football’s biggest stars sent out a petition Sunday, calling on the Big Ten to play football this fall.

Dr. Brian Hainline told CNN late Saturday that “everything would have to line up perfectly” for college sports to be played this fall. Much of the fall college sports season has been canceled, with conferences hoping to make up competitions, including football, in the spring.

But not everyone has accepted those decisions.

On Sunday morning, Big Ten football players continued to push the conference to overturn its cancellation of the fall season. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and other players posted on Twitter an online petition requesting the Big Ten reinstate the schedule the conference released six days before it pulled the plug.

Player parent groups from Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska have sent letters to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren asking for the conference to reverse course and seeking more transparency into the decision.

The letters also call for players to be allowed to sign liability waivers with their schools in order have a season. It was just two weeks ago Pac-12 players with the We Are United movement called for its conference to ban such waivers. Big Ten United, another group of players pushing for more oversight and uniformity in COVID-19 protocols, also demanded liability waivers be banned.

The NCAA did just that a few days later, saying member schools could not require athletes to sign a liability waiver related to COVID-19 to participate.

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, one of the leaders of College Athletes United, a group that helped organize Big Ten United, said he wasn’t familiar enough with the parents’ letters to comment on them.

“I am focused on figuring out a way with my fellow players to work with the conference and the NCAA to find a way to return to play that is as safe as possible and ensure the well-being of the players in as timely a manner as possible,” Reynolds said in a text to AP.

The NCAA has no jurisdiction over major college football, so the conferences have been left to make their own calls. At the highest level of college football, four conferences — including the Big Ten and Pac-12 — have postponed fall sports and are hoping to make them up in some fashion in the spring.

Six leagues, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12, are moving forward with plans to play in the fall.

Hainline told CNN that how colleges and universities handled the reopening of campuses to students will be crucial in determining when fall sports can be played. Athletes have been on campus for nearly two months in some cases preparing for their seasons and being regularly tested for COVID-19.

Testing of athletes will need to increase when competition begins. Recent breakthroughs in saliva testing could provide faster results and more access to testing for everyone, but just how much remains to be seen. The availability and turnaround times of COVID-19 tests is still a problem in parts of the country.

“Right now, if testing stays at it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports,” Hainline told CNN.

He added: “We’re not in a place today where we could safely play sports.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

NCAA cancels fall championships as major football marches on

The NCAA called off fall championship events — a move Thursday that does not affect major college football — because not enough schools will be competing in sports such as men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball during the first semester.

NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement in a video posted on Twitter, but it has been clear this was coming as conferences canceled fall sports seasons because of the coronvirus pandemic.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t and can’t turn toward winter and spring and say, ‘How can we create a legitimate championship for those students?’” Emmert said. “There are ways to do this. I am completely confident we can figure this out. If schools and conferences want to move forward … let’s do it.”

Emmert also said NCAA officials have begun work on contingencies for the NCAA basketball tournaments, possibly moving dates and looking into creating bubbles in which the teams can compete.

He said the NCAA would prioritize staging championships in winter and spring sports because those — including the lucrative men’s basketball tournament — were canceled when COVID-19 first spiked across the United States in March.

Moving fall sports to the spring still must go through the Division I Council, which is comprised of representatives of all 32 conferences, and be approved by the DI Board of Directors.

Championship events in all sports could be modified going forward to deal with COVID-19, Emmert said. That is likely to include fewer teams participating at fewer and predetermined sites.

The spring calendar already features more sports than the fall so cramming still more in, including FCS football, will create logistical challenges.

“Will it be normal? Of course not. We’ll be playing falls sports in the spring,” he said. “Will it create other conflicts and challenges? Of course. But is it doable? Yeah.”

Last week the NCAA Board of Governors said championship events in a sport would canceled if fewer than 50% of the teams competing in that sports played a regular season.

Divisions II and III almost immediately followed by canceling their fall championships. Division I — which is comprised of 357 schools — held on, but as conference after conference canceled their fall seasons the tipping point came.

Falls sports also include field hockey, cross country and water polo. Schools in conferences that have not yet canceled their fall seasons could conceivably try to stage regular-season competition over the next few months.

The highest tier of Division I football, the Bowl Subdivision, is not impacted. The College Football Playoff is run by the conferences and six of those leagues are still moving toward having a season, including the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12.

Beyond those six conferences, the rest of Division I has mostly been shuttered. Whether they can pull off football or any other sport during the pandemic is still to be determined.

Earlier in the day, the NCAA’s chief medical officer and two of its infectious disease expert advisers warned the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States remains an enormous obstacle for college sports to overcome.

“I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play,” said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University.

Del Rio, a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel, appeared with NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline on a webinar hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“We need to focus on what’s important,” Del Rio said. “What’s important right now is we need to control this virus. Not having fall sports this year, in controlling this virus, would be to me the No. 1 priority.”

The United States has had more than 5 million COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this week, the Big Ten and Pac-12 became the first Power Five conferences to decide not to play football, or any sports, this fall. Emmert called it a devastating blow.

College sports administrators and coaches have been making the case schools are providing structured environments with frequent testing and strict protocols that make athletes safer than the general population.

“We had some positive tests when our student-athletes first came back,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said. “We had a dramatic decrease since they’ve gotten under our umbrella and that’s good. Basically we have our student-athlete under our umbrella. On a college campus where students are going to class, it’s hard to create a bubble.”

Hainline said about 1%-2% of college athletes who have been tested by schools have been positive for COVID-19.

Del Rio said conferences are coming to different decisions not because they have different information, but because they are assessing risk differently.

“Some conferences will say, we’ll go forward. It’s a very narrow path, hopefully they’ll be no infections and if there are infections we’ll be able to detect them, and we we’ll be able to stop them and we won’t have an outbreak,” Del Rio said. “But other conferences say, no. Our tolerance is for zero risk and therefore we will not have it. It’s exactly the same data just being looked at in different ways.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Utah high schools return to football, with virus precautions

HERRIMAN, Utah (AP) — Fans wore masks and players drank from their own water bottles instead of sharing Thursday night at what was said to be the first high school football game in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The stands were sold out at 25% capacity at Herriman High School in Utah as the Mustangs took on the Davis High School Darts, news outlets reported. The game was believed to be the first high school matchup on the gridiron as schools across the country debate whether to play this fall amid COVID-19 concerns.

The home team’s marching band wasn’t present, though both schools brought cheerleaders to the game. They wore masks before kickoff but, like the players, did not during the game.

Tickets were sold online and scanned as fans entered the stadium so the school can carry out contact tracing after the game if necessary, KUTV reported. Fans were asked to keep their masks on for the entire game.

Players usually share from a few of the same water bottles, but each had their own as a precaution, the television station reported.

Fans were also instructed to leave as soon as the game ended, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Davis beat Herriman 24-20.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

President Donald Trump on Monday joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches calling to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown as supporters pushed the premise that the players are safer because of their sport.

There was speculation two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons and explore the possibility of spring football.

The Mountain West became the second conference in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivison to do just that, joining the Mid-American Conference in giving up hope on playing any sports in the first semester. Back east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports, too, becoming the first school in college football’s highest tier to break from its league; the rest of Conference USA is going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes on fall sports had been taken by its presidents and chancellors as of Monday afternoon. The conference’s athletic directors were scheduled to meet later in the day, but it’s the university presidents who will have the final say on whether football is played. In the Pac-12, presidents were scheduled to meet Tuesday, a person familiar with the meeting told AP condition of anonymity because the meeting was not being made public,

The powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not ready to shutter its fall season.

“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,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season, with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among a group posting to Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” the president tweeted.

That didn’t help the Mountain West, which announced all fall sports including football were postponed. Though Air Force would be permitted the opportunity to play the other service academies, Army and Navy.

Old Dominion dropped out earlier in the day. The Virginia school, a relative newcomer to major college football, canceled fall sports less than a week after C-USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President John Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown that players can be safe after they return to school. He cited Michigan’s COVID-19 testing stats, including 11 positives out of 893 administered to the members of the football program and none in the last 353 tests.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” Harbaugh wrote.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost made similar claims and said if the Big Ten doesn’t play, that might not stop the Cornhuskers.

“Our university is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks,” Frost said. “We want to play no matter who it is or where it is.”

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes might look elsewhere for games, too, and Penn State coach James Franklin on Twitter implored Big Ten leaders to have patience, delay and seek clarity.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

Michigan’s situation falls in line with what many medical staffers are seeing on their campuses.

“We’ve seen it spread thus far within roommates and outside of our facilities primarily. We haven’t seen a lot of spread within athletic facilities themselves,” said Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director at Kansas State.

Doctors and epidemiologists outside of college sports are less convinced that big-time college football programs decrease the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

“This is a very convenient, self-serving narrative for people who want college football to happen whether to score political points or for revenue purposes,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist with Oxford College at Emory University. “But I’ve yet to see anyone of them do it with actual data.

“Estimate the risk for me of what would have happened with these students were they not to play college football versus what’s going to happen to them if they do? That’s actually a really complicated, really difficult question to answer. I don’t think we know for sure.”

The number of confirmed infections in the U.S. is more than 5 million, the most in the world.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said only an NBA-type bubble can really protect college athletes more than the general population and keep the season from being disrupted by the virus.

“If we’re going to try and minimize the risk of the virus, it’s really that the setting of the country as whole is the issue, not really actually the sport,” said Adalja, a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel.

The number of cases per day has declined recently, but not for long enough to say the pandemic has been controlled, said Lucia Mullen, an epidemiologist and analyst for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

Mullen hears echos of the nation’s debate over reopening schools in the case made by football players and coaches. Structure and support is healthy for young people, she said.

“The worry with the U.S. is, and this is something I put to the sports as well, we all do want sports back, but it’s going to be incredibly aggravating if we try and bring it back and we have to cancel the season because it’s not working,” she said. “And that it delays us for yet another year and we can’t have any sports for the rest of the year because our virus outbreak is too uncontrollable.”

Adalja said the window for a college football season is closing.

“Because of the fact that we cannot solve these simple problems in a larger community of testing, tracing and isolating,” Adalja said. “If we can’t solve those problems there, it’s going to be very hard to do that in a college campus atmosphere.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players, pushing for the opportunity to play this season, despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

—We all want to play football this season.

—Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

—Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

—Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

—Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Signs ominous and hopeful as college sports hangs in balance

The announcements came within 40 minutes of each other Wednesday morning, one bleak, the other providing a glimmer of hope for a college football season that is looking iffy at best right now.

First, Connecticut canceled what was supposed to be its first season as a major college football independent because it could not endure the strains of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then the Big Ten unveiled the conference-only schedule it devised to withstand COVID-19 disruptions, with football games slated to kick off in a month.

Those two decisions epitomized the current state of college sports and help explain why the NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday directed each division of the association to decide independently by Aug. 21 whether it will be able to safely conduct championship events in fall sports such as soccer and lower-division football.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told The Associated Press that whether college sports, and more specifically major college football, can play through the pandemic is likely to be determined not by the association or even conferences.

“It’s actually going to have to be each institution,” Emmert said. “You have to look at the huge variability around the country. When you look at what are the facts on the ground in Syracuse, New York, versus Miami, Florida, they’re very, very different. And those schools are going to have to operate consistent with their local municipal policies, their state policies, federal policies, and then also whatever they decide collectively in the conference.

“So it really isn’t the time where you can say we’re going to have one rule to govern all of football or all of any sport in that sense.”

Instead of making a broad decision across three divisions, the Board of Governors set parameters for each to make its own call.

Within hours of the board’s announcement, presidents councils from both Division II and III canceled fall sports championships and determined they will not be made up in the spring.

According to the board’s decision, at least 50% of teams competing in a fall sport in any division must conduct a regular season this fall for a championship to be held.

The board emphasized that all fall sports activity, whether it be preseason practices, regular-season games or postseason national championship tournaments, must follow the NCAA’s return-to-sport guidelines.

“What we did today with the board is we said, look, you have to meet these kinds of standards and you have to provide these kinds of opportunities and this kind of information to students to even move forward on this,” Emmert said.

The NCAA has little, if any, control over the highest tier of Division I football, where the Big Ten competes with the other Power Five conferences, the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12.

Those leagues along with the five other FBS conferences have methodically put plans in place to play a season that will be worth billions in revenue — most of it landing in the Power Five.

The commissioners of those conferences talked a lot about collaboration, but in the end each league did what was in its best interest.

The NCAA’s main role has been to provide guidelines for how to attempt to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 as athletes return to campus, practice and ultimately competition.

The NCAA cannot stop regular-season competition. When the board considered pulling the plug on fall championships last month, conference leaders throughout all of Division I pushed back. There was even discussion among the most powerful conferences that they could stage their own championship events without the NCAA.

The pandemic has exposed college sports’ lack of clearly defined, top-down leadership, though Emmert said the current problems wouldn’t be easier to solve with a different structure.

“We’re at a place where all of the answers to all of the questions are complicated because they are very complicated questions,” Emmert said. “And so I guess I understand people that say, ‘You know, somebody make a decision.’ And I would hope that those same people would recognize that I and my board are more than willing to make decisions. We did it in March (canceling the NCAA basketball tournament).

“This isn’t about any one person or any one group not wanting to take leadership. It’s about trying to find the right answer for our student-athletes and it’s complicated. And anybody that doesn’t recognize that is not paying attention.”

Around the same time the NCAA made its announcement Wednesday regarding fall championships and other issues related to COVID-19′s impact on college sports, a second players’ rights movement announced its formation.

#BigTenUnited joined the “ WeAreUnited” group of Pac-12 players in making an organized call for more transparency, oversight and monitoring of COVID-19 testing and standards.

The Big Ten players focused solely on COVID-19 protocols and targeted the NCAA more than their conference.

The NCAA’s directive addressed some of the issues raised by both groups, including retention of scholarships and eligibility if an athlete opts out of the coming season because of COVID-19 concerns.

The NCAA is also setting up an email address and phone hot line to allow athletes, parents and others associated with college athletic departments to report “alleged failures” of COVID-19 protocols and guidelines.

“When we as players are united, our voices will be heard. These are important victories but players still don’t have any uniform, enforceable COVID standards to keep players safe,” Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs said in a statement released by #WeAreUnited.

Emmert said the burgeoning player movements were not discussed by the board and neither group has communicated with the NCAA.

“But that’s not to say that this wasn’t the result of a lot of conversations with students,” Emmert said.

Later in the day, the College Football Playoff put another piece to this jigsaw puzzle of season in place by announcing that the selection of the four teams to compete for the national title would be delayed two weeks to Dec. 20.

It was another sign of hope — coming not long after Louisville announced it had suspended team activities in men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball after 29 athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is no guarantee,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said on Big Ten Network, “that we’ll have fall sports or a football season.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

SEC goes to conference-only schedule, Sept. 26 start

The powerhouse Southeastern Conference reconfigured its schedule Thursday to include only league games in 2020, a pandemic-forced decision that pushes major college football closer to a siloed regular season in which none of the power conferences cross paths.

The SEC’s university presidents agreed on a 10-game schedule that eliminates all nonconference opponents and begins Sept. 26. The SEC championship game, originally scheduled for Dec. 5, will be pushed back to Dec. 19, 13 days before the College Football Playoff semifinals are scheduled to be played on New Year’s Day.

While some scheduling plans are still to be sorted out among Power Five conferences, it is growing more likely this season’s playoff teams — if there is a playoff — will be selected without the aid of nonconference games involving Power Five teams.

Each SEC team will have a midseason off week in this odd, truncated season and Dec. 12 will be an off week for the entire conference. The delayed start for the Southeastern Conference is two weeks later than what the Atlantic Coast Conference set for itself Wednesday, and creates 12 weeks to get in 10 games and determine participants for the SEC title game in Atlanta.

The regular season was originally scheduled to begin on Labor Day weekend, but there was concern among SEC officials the return of students to campus in the coming weeks will spike COVID-19 cases. Conference officials believe delaying the start of the season improves the SEC’s chances to launch.

“We believe these schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said.

A schedule with new matchups still must be approved by athletic directors and will be announced later. The 14 SEC teams normally play eight conference games and four nonconference games, with seven teams in each division. The SEC is keeping its divisional format and each team will add two cross-divisional games.

“Some feathers may be ruffled, but gotta do what’s best for SEC,” Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced plans to play only conference games. The ACC on Wednesday announced a reworked 11-game schedule that left room for one nonconference game and made famously independent Notre Dame a member of a league for the first time in the 133-year history of Fighting Irish football.

The ACC wanted to allow four of its schools to maintain in-state rivalry games with SEC schools, but now Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina and Kentucky-Louisville have been canceled.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said he lobbied to keep the game with the Seminoles.

“We ran out of Saturdays,” he said.

Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart said: “I fully support the SEC’s decision to move to conference-only games, though we are disappointed we won’t have the chance to compete with Louisville for the Governor’s Cup this season.”

The SEC’s decision puts all ACC nonconference games in doubt. The ACC had stipulated it would only allow its schools to play in their home states against non-ACC teams.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have yet to reveal detailed schedules, but both could come as soon as Friday. They are expected to start after Labor Day and likely land on a 10-game model.

Big 12 officials were holding out hope their 10 members would be able to play nonconference games, but options are dwindling. The SEC’s decision cancels LSU’s home game against Texas and Tennessee’s scheduled trip to Oklahoma in September.

Big 12 athletic directors are expected to meet Monday and could have a decision on a schedule then. The conference could try to keep some of its games against non-Power Five schools. Currently, Kansas (against Southern Illinois) and Oklahoma (against Missouri State) are slated to play Aug. 29.

The SEC’s move inward is yet another blow to Group of Five schools and those in the second tier of Division I football known as FCS. The SEC was scheduled to play three dozen home games against those schools, paying out millions of dollars that help keep programs running.

The SEC was set to pay about $36 million to Group of Five schools like South Alabama and Kent State, and another several million to FCS schools this season for providing a break from playing in the toughest conference in the country.

The SEC has produced 10 of the last 14 national champions and never missed the College Football Playoff, but coaches from other conferences often complain about the league playing only eight conferences games while others play nine.

“Playing 10 SEC games is going to be unique and different and it’s going to be a challenge,” Stricklin said.

During a 24-hour span in college football, Notre Dame football joined a conference and SEC teams decided they would play more games against each other.

If the pandemic relents and the 2020 season can be played, it might be the oddest in the history of college football.

Categories
SPORT SPORT_MLB SPORT_NCAA

MLB outbreak reveals college football’s vulnerabilities

Those working to get college sports up and running have been hoping the return of professional sports would provide valuable information that could aid their efforts to play through a pandemic.

A COVID-19 outbreak for a Major League Baseball team three days into its season forced two games to be postponed Monday and brought a glimpse of how difficult the task will be.

“We’re still learning things and this is a data point, there’s no doubt about that,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “We’re doing what our scientists and doctors are telling us to do. Move forward slowly and constantly re-evaluate.

“I think this will just be the new normal. There will be ebbs and flows and there’ll be disruptions.”

Like MLB — and unlike the NBA, NHL, WNBA and MLS — college sports will try to conduct their seasons outside a controlled, virus-free bubble. The first major college football games in an evolving schedule that should start to come into focus this week are a little more than a month away.

COVID-19 flare-ups have shut down voluntary workouts throughout July at about two dozen major college football programs, including Ohio State, North Carolina, Kansas State and Houston. Last week Michigan State and Rutgers both announced positive tests among players and staff led to 14-day quarantine for their entire teams.

Full-blown practices for teams trying to start their seasons around the Labor Day weekend will begin by early next week.

Greater challenges lie ahead and what happened to the Marlins could be an ominous sign, said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University.

“The biggest thing that I see is this is a demonstration of just how quickly COVID-19 can rip through a clubhouse and a team even in a sport like baseball where practices and games are pretty conducive to physical distancing,” Binney said. “It’s definitely alarming. You have to expect things would look even worse in a sport like football where the practices have contact, the games have contact and you have bigger rosters. Because the virus getting into a team is just a numbers game. The more people you have the more likely it sneaks in.”

The Miami Marlins outbreak rippled through baseball. Not only was their home opener with Baltimore postponed, but so was the Phillies’ game against the Yankees. The Marlins played at Philadelphia on Sunday after several players tested positive and the next day the total number of positive players and staffers was more than a dozen.

When the Marlins or the Phillies will play next is unclear.

Lucia Mullen, an epidemiologist and senior analyst at Johns Hopkins University, said there could be lessons to take from how soon those teams are competing again.

“The next kind of pinnacle that other sports should be looking at is did they find (the infected) fast enough? Were they able to find all potential cases and stop the spread there or have they been too slow in their testing, in their contact tracing, that someone slipped through and we’re going to see more and more cases pop up?” Mullen said. “Because if that’s the case, we’re not testing enough.”

Recent NCAA guidelines recommended testing college football players once a week during the season, within 72 hours of a game. The Power Five conferences are working on their own protocols which make a similar recommendation.

Whether that is enough to prevent outbreaks that shut down teams, especially when more students return to campuses and college towns, remains to be seen.

Clinical aspects aside, college sports could benefit from a few smooth weeks of MLB playing and NFL opening training camps, If pro leagues struggle to keep their teams operating, questions about playing with unpaid college students will arise.

Bowlsby said having worked on bringing back college sports since March he tries to avoid overvaluing singular events such as the Marlins’ outbreak.

“Any good news is welcome. Any bad news is not surprising,” Bowlsby said. “I didn’t have an emotional reaction to it. I think we learned something from it. I was not surprised at all that there were positive tests. There will be positive tests in other sports, too. There will be positive tests on campuses when students return and within athletics programs.

“If it gets to the point where it’s not at all manageable then we’ll have to adjust in real time. And that adjustment could be everything from changes in schedules, changes in current practices to a discontinuation of the activities.”

Categories
SPORT SPORT_NCAA

NCAA lays out plan for playing but warns of surging pandemic

The NCAA handed down its latest guidelines for playing through a pandemic while also sounding an alarm: The prospect of having a fall semester with football and other sports is looking grim.

If the games can go on, the NCAA says college athletes should be tested for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before they play, players with high-risk exposures to the coronavirus should be quarantined for 14 days and everybody on the sideline should wear a mask.

The nation’s largest governing body for college sports released an updated guidance Thursday to help member schools navigate competition, but it comes as the pandemic rages on. Around the country, the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise and many states have slowed reopenings or reinstated social-distancing restrictions on some businesses.

“This document lays out the advice of health care professionals as to how to resume college sports if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”

The recommendations were developed by the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, Autonomy-5 Medical Advisory Group, representing the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, and other medical groups.

The Autonomy-5 or Power Five conferences also intend to provide their own similar guidance to schools. A copy of that document, which has not been finalized, was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported on by Sports Illustrated. Even before the NCAA’s announcement, the American Athletic Conference said it planned to require its schools to meet or exceed NCAA guidance.

Among the highlights of the NCAA’s recommendations:

— Test results should be obtained within 72 hours of competition for athletes competing in so-called high-contact risk sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse.

— Face shields should be integrated into sports where feasible.

— Masks should be worn by everyone on a sideline, including when an athlete moves from the playing field to interact with a coach.

— CDC guidelines should be used for determining when individuals can resume activities after testing positive for COVID-19. Time-based strategy means isolation until 72 hours after recovery and at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared.

— All individuals with high-risk exposure must be quarantined for 14 days.

The final point could be crucial for managing a team this season. Simply being deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive could sideline players for two weeks.

At this point, though, the hopes of being able to conduct a college football season in the fall are dimming. Plans are already being made to modify it.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced last week that they would play only conference games in football and other sports to help minimize potential disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Big East joined those leagues Thursday by going conference-only for the fall season, which for the basketball-focused league includes men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross-country, volleyball and field hockey.

Other FBS conferences have not decided yet on scheduling formats for the coming football season, instead waiting until late July. The regular season is scheduled to begin around Labor Day weekend, with dozens of game slated for Sept. 3-7.

“Right now we’d like to buy as much time as possible,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco told Sports Talk 790 in Houston.

Meanwhile, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on Thursday became the third Division I conference to say it will not have a fall sports season. The MEAC, comprising 11 historically black colleges and universities, joined fellow FCS conferences the Ivy League and Patriot League in punting on fall football and other sports, with the hopes of making them up in the spring semester if possible.

At most major college football schools, athletes started coming back to campus in June to participate in voluntary workouts in team facilities. This week football teams were allowed to begin mandatory team activities, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Through the last month and half schools have been testing athletes regularly, and already some flare ups of the virus have caused activities to be shut down at schools such as Ohio State, Kansas State, Houston and North Carolina.

At many school, positive tests among athletes have been minimal. On Thursday, Oklahoma reported it had zero positive tests among 98 football players tested the day before.

The problem is colleges and their athletic departments are not operating in a true bubble the way the NBA is doing with its teams in Florida. If states and communities are struggling to contain the virus, it makes it more difficult to keep athletes safe — especially when the full student body arrives on campus.

It also becomes more problematic for athletic departments to potentially contribute to the spread of infection by gathering large groups of people to engage in contact sports, and then sending them back out on campus and into the surrounding communities.

“So nothing that occurs to the student athlete is in a silo,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at University of Nebraska Medical Center. “And certainly we want to protect them, but we want to protect the broader community as well.”

Kratochvil, who heads the Big Ten’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases, said the availability of tests and how quickly results can be delivered, the availability of personal protective equipment used by healthcare workers and the stress on hospitals will all be considered when determining whether college sports can be played.

“Everything is connected,” he said.