The Big Ten and Pac-12 both moved to postpone their football seasons on Tuesday with heavy emphasis on player safety.
The Pac-12 included its return to play medical assessment along with its statement announcing that it would suspend all sports through the end of the year. This paragraph appeared on the first page.
“We are concerned about health outcomes related to the virus,” the assessment said. “Among these, there is new and evolving information regarding potential serious cardiac side effects in elite athletes. We do not have enough information to understand the short and long-term outcomes regarding these health issues.”
The Big Ten’s announcement included a similar theme of health uncertainty.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” commissioner Kevin Warren said. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
The conferences’ announcements came a day after an ESPN report that highlighted the potential link between COVID-19 and myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart that can happen after viral infections. Tuesday afternoon, CBS Sports reported that at least 15 Big Ten athletes had been diagnosed with myocarditis.
Myocarditis, if left untreated, can lead to heart damage and even cardiac arrest. Those diagnosed with myocarditis are not supposed to exercise for a period of months.
“This is a holistic decision,” Warren said on the Big Ten Network. “There is too much uncertainty now for us to feel comfortable and go forward.”
If the decisions to postpone the seasons feels abrupt to you, it’s because the Big Ten announced its 2020 schedule less than a week ago and the Pac-12 unveiled its schedule on July 31. The conferences were both publicly touting games scheduled to kick off on Labor Day weekend over the last two weeks.
But medical data like the information included in the Pac-12’s Monday report proved to be too significant. In addition to noting the prevalence of community spread in Pac-12 communities and the uncertainty surrounding long-term effects of the virus, the assessment also noted that schools needed more testing capacity for all their sports programs.
“Testing capacity needs to increase to allow for more frequent testing, performed closer to game time, and with more rapid turn-around time to prevent spread of infection and enhance the safety of all student-athletes, coaches, and staff involved, particularly in situations where physical distancing and mask wearing cannot be maintained,” the report said. “This will require access to significant capacity of point-of-care testing and rapid turn-around time, which is currently very limited.”
Uncertainty surrounding the still-spreading virus was the theme of Warren’s post-announcement interview on the Big Ten Network.
“There’s so much uncertainty,” Warren said. “As we asked questions two weeks ago some questions were answered but then you ask more questions and maybe those questions are answered and then there’s new questions And you ask new questions today. And it’s not only in the Big Ten. I think across the country and the world. There’s so much uncertainty about this virus. It’s a novel virus, it’s spreading at alarming rates.”
There’s also uncertainty among college football observers. If the Big Ten and Pac-12 saw enough risks from the coronavirus pandemic to postpone fall sports, why are the ACC, Big 12 and SEC still pushing forward? Aren’t they seeing the some of the same data too?
If they are, they’re just coming to different conclusions. The SEC pushed the start of its season back to Sept. 26 to see how coronavirus trends react on its campuses after students arrive for the fall semester. The Big 12 hasn’t even released an official schedule yet. The ACC is set to start on Sept. 10, but could ultimately move some games back a few weeks.
We may have some major college football this fall. We may not. We definitely won’t have any football from the Big Ten and Pac-12.
“Everyone’s going to make their independent decisions with certain respect to our colleagues,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “We tried to be very collaborative, very communicative with our peers across the country but at the end of the day our presidents and chancellors looked at what was the best interest of Pac-12 student-athletes based on the advice and frankly what’s going on in our communities.
This is uncharted territory. This is a very unique year. It’ll get better. We’ll get back to some semblance of normalcy. But people are just trying to figure it out the best they can with student-athlete welfare in mind and that may lead to differences and we accept that.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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