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College Sports seem like they’re in a rush and don’t have a good plan to come back

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There are so many questions with yesterday’s announcement that athletes can return to campus.

Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The SEC Announced yesterday they were going to proceed with allowing college athletes to return for voluntary workouts. Here’s the release from Mizzou Athletics:

Including this statement from Mizzou Athletic Director Jim Sterk:

“The health, safety and well-being of Mizzou’s student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans is paramount and will be at the forefront in our decision-making process regarding the challenges we face with the COVID-19 pandemic. For well over a month, our internal Mizzou Sports Park repopulation committee has worked with MU Health Care, University, city and county officials to design a comprehensive plan for safely bringing student-athletes back to campus next month in anticipation of resuming workouts.

“Our goal remains an on time start to the fall sports season for all of our teams, and having football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players return June 8 for voluntary workouts is the first step on that journey forward in today’s challenging climate. I expect that at some point down the road the NCAA and SEC will allow student-athletes from other sports to return, and when they do, we will likely phase those in starting with the remaining fall sports teams.

“The guidance we have received from MU Health Care, as well as city and county officials, and the SEC’s Medical Task Force, has provided a roadmap that allows us to safely open our facilities for supervised voluntary activities while continuing to provide academic support, medical and mental health care, and meals to our student-athletes that they would not have access to if they were at home.”

Opening up for voluntary workouts has always been my favorite phrasing. As my friend Kory Keys put it:

There’s nothing voluntary about these workouts. You’re expected to be there. Couple that with the fact these are a bunch of 18-22 year old kids who are champing at the bit to get back amongst their teammates and start playing their favorite sport again... there is no forgoing attendance and workouts. The athletes will all show up, and they will put themselves in harms’ way in doing so.

Bringing students, and student-athletes, coaches and trainers, and the full support staff all back on campus is upping the ante for a potential disaster, because we still don't have a LOT of answers to the “What Happens If...?” questions.

For me, this section stood out:

In addition to standard infection prevention measures as approved by public health authorities such as facility cleaning and social distancing, recommended enhanced health and safety measures include:

- Enhanced education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, including but not limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19

- A 3-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis upon resumption of athletics activities

- Testing of symptomatic team members (including all student-athletes, coaches, team support and other appropriate individuals)

- Immediate isolation of team members who are under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19 followed by contact tracing, following CDC and local public health guidelines

- A transition period that allows student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sport activity following a period of inactivity

Emphasis is mine.

As of last night, the United States has recorded over 97,000 deaths due to COVID-19. Exposure, or at least potential exposure, is likely to ramp up as more and more states fight to reopen and restore whatever normalcy is. As the general public fights to get out, more exposure is all but certain.

And for months we’ve been told by experts and epidemiologists specifically there are people who can be exposed and carry the virus for days without exhibiting any symptoms. So are we asking unpaid (outside of LSU) athletes in the SEC to social distance from anyone that’s not on the team?

What about girlfriends? Spouses? Direct familial relatives? All it takes is a small leak. A team manager gets exposed while grocery shopping offline and returns the practice the next day and interacts with just a small group of players. After three days this manager gets sick, now he’s exposed a portion of the team who has in turn exposed the entire team, and more. If a small leak springs, it could get serious in a hurry and set everyone back for weeks, if not more.

And what if this happens after the season kicks off?

It feels like there’s a hurry, and the hurry doesn’t exist for the professional sports in the same way as it does for collegiate sports. The only difference is unpaid, unorganized labor. The power structure of the NCAA lies with Administrators, instead of a locked internal battle between ownership and the players. Instead, without representation like the professional sports have, players are left with one thing: their desire to play ball.

It’s a tough spot to be in, particularly for those 18-22 year olds who just want to be able to play. If you ask any Mizzou football player or basketball player where they want to be and they’ll assuredly answer that they want to play.

My focus here is on the revenue sports, because without them the Athletic Departments aren’t pushing forward with getting the students on campus. It just feels rushed. There are still far too many questions left unanswered. We’re pushing ahead and opening up businesses and without a real hold on the spread and depth of the impact of the coronavirus.

I want sports back. Badly. We’re here running a sports blog, so it’s kind of imperative to have things to talk about. I like the offseason because it’s about rosters and potential, but that’s only interesting because it leads to games.

The faster we can solve this virus, the faster games can come back, the faster we can have actual fans in attendance. But without answers and plans to do lots of testing, I don’t see how we can successfully bring students back to campus, and we can kick back workouts when we’re not testing even when there aren’t any symptoms.

After all, what could go wrong?