Sunday, August 9, 2020

COVID-19 leads to uncertainty for upcoming college football season

April 16, 2020
<p>Freshman wide receiver Julian Barnett (2) is tackled during the game against Penn State on Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Freshman wide receiver Julian Barnett (2) is tackled during the game against Penn State on Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

No one has any idea what to expect anymore.

What seemed unlikely or impossible a month ago has become our new reality. When it comes to less important things like sports, everything is on the table: The Masters in November, the NFL Draft via FaceTime and ... baseball on Christmas? 

As the timeline of the coronavirus changes by the day and people are stuck inside their homes, a new speculation has started to arise. 

The status of the upcoming college football season is up in the air, and to say there is a definitive approach or understanding of what that is going to look like wouldn’t be an accurate statement. It’s too early to tell.

Michigan State President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in an interview with The State News on April 2 he could see a potential delay to the start of the season and that he’s been in contact with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and others regarding the uncertainty.

“I think it’s just really fluid,” Stanley said. “Everybody is thinking, the (Power Five) conferences are meeting and thinking about things. ... There’s nothing decided yet. Everybody’s kind of hoping, but everybody also realizes there is a possibility that it may be difficult to play. So, it’s going to be driven by safety, ultimately.”

Of course, there will be several hurdles to jump on the way to starting the season on time, or having one at all for that matter.

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The decision will have to be made on whether to have fans at the games or not. From a financial perspective, schools will lose out on significant revenue with the loss of ticket sales and other aspects of the game day experience. 

It’s a bigger deal for some programs than it is for others, but it will still be a big loss altogether, which might make it more feasible to start back up when large gatherings become socially acceptable again. College football in the spring? It’s certainly not out of the question.

Dr. Arjun Krishnan, an assistant professor at MSU within the College of Natural Science and head of The Krishnan Lab for Genomics and Computational Biology, said there are two major keys to having a safe football season.

"Assuming that physical distancing and isolation help in reducing the burden on our health system, resuming basic normal life — leave alone bringing 70,000 people together — completely depends on two things: 1) Widespread, aggressive COVID-19 testing and 2) Massive contact tracing by having state/local health systems building apps and databases using the new privacy-preserving technology," Krishnan said in an email. "Both are required and very soon."

MSU’s Athletic Director Bill Beekman said that the medical experts will be the driving force when it comes to making any decisions regarding the upcoming season, as health will be the top priority.

"The health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, fans and everyone throughout our community is our top priority and at the heart of any decision making on the upcoming football season," Beekman said in a quote sent to The State News by Associate Athletic Director Matt Larson. "As athletic directors and administrators throughout the Big Ten and the rest of the country, we are in a situation where we rely first and foremost on the advice of our medical experts, and then make decisions that align with the guidelines for public gatherings put in place by the governors of each state. Beyond that, we are trying to look at all possibilities while understanding that it's a constantly evolving situation."

Yes, America is suffering from the coronavirus as a whole. However, different areas of the country are getting hit harder than others. This could present an issue when it comes to traveling for games.

Finding neutral site locations for games could be difficult. There are too many teams across all levels of college football and the players have other responsibilities, such as their academics, and most feel that school athletic teams cannot compete if the universities they represent are not holding in-person classes.

“Our campus has to be operational for us to run football,” University of Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Students have to be back. That’s my view, and I think that’s the view of a lot of ADs that I talk with. I think that’s a clue to look at, where is your campus?”

Coaches have already been stripped of spring activities with their teams and have been forced to work remotely from home. This makes it especially challenging for coaches entering their first season with a program, such as new MSU coach Mel Tucker.

These are just a few of the many obstacles facing college football starting the season on time. In the meantime, the fastest way back to normalcy is to comply with social distancing while the experts figure this thing out.

And whether it’s in a couple months or next spring, we will have football again.

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