Home / FOOTBALL / Solomon: College football will be back but at what cost? – Houston Chronicle

Solomon: College football will be back but at what cost? – Houston Chronicle

This is the time of year when college football magazines usually hit the newsstands, and the debates begin.

The conference media days, where teams and coaches talk about the upcoming season, turns those meaningless predictions into 130 out of 130 schools entering the year “with something to prove” because “nobody thinks we can do it.”

Yes, even the team that is picked to win it all often claims to have a chip on its shoulder.

That is the beauty of college football.

This offseason, this regular season, will be like no other.

And, rest assured, there will be a season. But at what costs?

With plenty of time — more than three months — before the scheduled start of the college football season, the angst and anger over the season being canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic were indeed premature.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow football and basketball players to return to campuses on June 1.

Two days later, Governor Greg Abbott said in a television interview with Austin’s KXAN that he expects the football season to “start as planned, with fans in stands.”

The SEC announced that it will allow member schools to hold “voluntary” workouts for fall sports beginning on June 8.

The Big 12 said its schools can hold those so-called voluntary football get-togethers starting June 15. Big 12 volleyball, soccer and cross-country athletes will be able to come back two weeks later, and all other athletes on July 15.

As we ride this re-opening wave, more information on the plans for how to handle the return is being shared.

Perhaps the rigorous testing many thought would be implemented before athletes returned to competition will not be required.

Right now, how to pay for testing and what will be the frequency of the tests are more important questions to some than what will happen when an athlete tests positive.

Remember, it took a lawsuit to get the NCAA to deem it necessary to test athletes for the sickle cell trait. At the time, statistics showed that every other year an athlete died from complications related to a sickle cell trait that hadn’t not been diagnosed.

Not only were the cost for those tests cheaper than COVID-19 tests are, they are one-and-done. Incessant coronavirus testing of an athletic department would be expensive.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he anticipated all athletes would need to be tested two or three times a week.

That is not what the SEC recommends.

The SEC says on campus is the best place for its athletes to be, because schools can provide “far better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive on their own while off campus.”

The SEC says that “While each institution will make its own decisions,” its task force endorses:

 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).

So, a screening, not a test, would be done before an athlete is allowed back on campus. Tests would be done only on those who show symptoms of COVID-19.

How much would limiting testing to just those who exhibit symptoms increase the likelihood of an outbreak on a team? Does the odds difference outweigh the costs of being more thorough?

That is up to the individual schools.

Professional sports leagues plan frequently test for the coronavirus to protect their million-dollar athletes.

But the number of baseball and basketball players per MLB and NBA franchise is more manageable than all the athletes on a college campus.

Despite the SEC guidelines, schools should take a more cautious approach.

Then again, even when innovation catches up to the demand, making testing cheaper and more readily available, what is the incentive for rigorous testing of a football team?

While its true connotation is “Better them than me,” there is an argument that even if they contract the virus, the vast majority of college athletes will recover and be just fine.

Perhaps the SEC task force is heeding the words of President Trump, and once more proving that SEC football is better than football in the Big 12.

“When you test, you find something is wrong with people,” Trump said. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

Aren’t we all in favor of fewer cases?

jerome.solomon@chron.com

twitter.com/jeromesolomon

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