NCAA's top doctor: 'If testing stays as it is, there’s no way we could go forward with sports'

·3 min read

Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, appeared on CNN to talk about fall sports just after midnight on Sunday morning. The audience for CNN at that late hour was probably pretty limited, but that didn’t stop him from giving his honest, professional opinion about the possibility of college sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spoiler: It’s not great.

No optimism about sports

“The pathway to play sports is so exceedingly narrow right now,” Hainline said on CNN, via Chris Vannini of The Athletic. “Everything would have to line up perfectly.”

A major part of that “everything” is testing, which still isn’t up to snuff.

“Right now, if testing in the US stays the way it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports,” Hainline said via Stewart Mandel of The Athletic.

Currently, testing in the United States is hampered not just by the availability of tests, but by the length of time it takes to get results. With multiple days, and sometimes weeks, between the test and the results, it would be nearly impossible to ensure the safety of players, who would require both tests and results very close to gameday.

Dr. Brian Hainline speaks into a microphone.
Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer, isn't optimistic about college sports. (Peter Lockley/NCAA Photos via Getty Images).

It is possible that the testing time frame could change. The FDA approved a new “game-changing” saliva test on Saturday that’s cheaper and faster than any test currently available. These tests could be majorly helpful to schools that just want to have students back on campus, but the availability isn’t immediately known, and it’s hard to imagine that testing for athletes would be prioritized above tests that would allow a campus to reopen for students.

With things as they are right now and the new tests only just approved by the FDA and not widely available, Hainline gave his overall assessment.

"We’re not in a place today where we can safely play sports,” Hainline said.

Return of students could be ‘downfall’

Despite Hainline’s lack of optimism and grim outlook, there are schools gearing up to play football. Six conferences are going forward: the Big 12, SEC, ACC, AAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA. These conferences all have the same medical data as the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other schools that have opted to cancel fall sports, but are still pushing ahead. On Saturday, Big 12 school Oklahoma announced that nine football players had tested positive for COVID-19, but still they’re pressing on.

What might stop those six conferences from putting on their football seasons? Hainline believes that it’s students returning to campus, acting as students tend to do. If schools can’t handle the return of students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hainline said that could be “the downfall” of the entire structure.

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