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The reasons for college football’s return

Sports | Political pressure was just one of several factors
by Sharon Dierberger
Posted 9/22/20, 03:09 pm

Of the five NCAA athletic conferences that make the most money, four have committed to putting players on the gridiron this fall. The last holdout, the Pac-12, looks like it is headed for a fall football return, as well.

“We feel we’ve got a responsibility to our student-athletes and our programs to explore that possibility,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. “So that’s what we’re doing.”

The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 have already started their seasons. The Southeastern Conference is scheduled to begin play this weekend, and last week, the Big Ten announced it would forge ahead with a shortened season starting on Oct. 23. Like U.S. businesses, schools, and families, the conferences are weighing medical, educational, financial, and political pressures as they weather the coronavirus pandemic.

In August, the Pac-12 and Big Ten concluded they wouldn’t play until spring because of concerns for players’ health raised by a study released in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It linked COVID-19 to myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation that can reduce its pumping ability and could even lead to death.

But the same day those conferences spiked their seasons, Mayo Clinic cardiologist Michael Ackerman encouraged the Big 12 not to make a decision based on the research. He explained the study’s German subjects were middle-aged adults and cautioned against using the fear of myocarditis as a reason for healthy young athletes not to play football.

“There’s just too many unknowns to say we have new damaging, alarming evidence that COVID-19 myocarditis is the big, bad, spooky thing in town now,” Ackerman said, and his evaluation helped convince the Big 12 to stick to its fall schedule.

Big Ten officials cited improvements in rapid results coronavirus testing as a factor in their choice to tackle the season. Any football player who tests positive for COVID-19 can have a variety of other medical tests to rule out heart irregularities before returning to the field.

As the Pac-12 weighs its next move, one of the conference’s schools, Stanford University, worries about compromising the amateurism of players. Stanford doesn’t want to give athletes preferential treatment over other students by allowing the team on campus for a university activity or to stay in school housing while other students can’t do the same. Other Pac-12 schools such as UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, have provided university housing for returning football players since last month. At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, the Pac-12 will continue addressing those concerns and might broach the possibility of playing without Stanford.

Last week, players from another Pac-12 school, the University of Southern California, published an open letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to loosen COVID-19 restrictions. “We want to play. … Please let us play,” they said in frustration as they watched NFL games resume. University of Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough sent a similar message to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Western states, where health officials first detected the coronavirus in the United States, have had some of the strictest limits on gatherings.

The two governors, who are both Democrats, started easing restrictions last week to allow team practices if the Pac-12 agrees to play.

The conference’s prolonged delay raises questions about how the College Football Playoff would work if the Pac-12 plays but doesn’t start in time to have as many games as other conferences. Teams selected in December as national semifinalists to compete in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl receive $6 million for their respective conferences. Even if a Pac-12 team won all of its games, it likely wouldn’t get selected over another team that had a loss but played more games, The Oregonian noted.

Before the Big Ten announced its reversal, President Donald Trump had urged the conference to resume its football season for weeks. “I’m the one who got football back,” the president said after the conference made its announcement. University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez agreed Trump drew attention to Big Ten football but was uncertain how much it influenced the decision.

Directing his focus to the lone holdout in the Power Five, Trump said at a news conference on Wednesday, “You’re the only one now. … Open up, Pac-12 … right now. Get going.”


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Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a correspondent and reviewer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate. She has served as a university teacher, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, businesswoman, and Division 1 athlete. She resides in Stillwater, Minnesota, with her husband, Bill.

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