Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, gave the sports world a sobering realization in a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
Fauci announced that the success of ongoing COVID-19 vaccine treatments could not be determined until late fall or early winter. Without a possible treatment for months, this solidifies the risk that major sports leagues will be putting their personnel under if they return to normal activity.
No organization could be impacted more than the NCAA. With school openings in the fall still uncertain, Fauci could not confirm that it would be safe for students.
“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” said Fauci. “Even at the top speed we are going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term.”
Soon after Fauci made his comments on Tuesday, California’s state university system — the largest of its kind nationwide — announced that it would cancel all on-campus courses scheduled for the fall semester.
This leaves the 2020-21 NCAA athletic calendar in peril. NCAA President Mark Emmert has already said that if colleges are not open and students are not present on campus, then college sports will not resume.
“You’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students,” Emmert said last week on the NCAA’s Twitter account. “So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”
Emmert’s comments came after Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and several other unnamed commissioners supported the idea of fall athletes being allowed to compete while students were still only partaking in online classes.
“That doesn’t mean [schools have] to be up and running in the full normal model,” said Emmert. “But you don’t want to ever put student-athletes at greater risk than the rest of the student body.”
Emmert seems to be saying the right things here, especially in light of Fauci’s Senate hearing comments on the access to a vaccine. But what happens if these school presidents, athletic directors, coaches, and conference commissioners try to circumvent Emmert’s orders by bringing select groups on to campuses in order to call themselves “open” and allow them to grab a piece of the large earnings that they usually receive from college football in the fall?
According to Forbes, college football’s 25 most valuable teams bring in a combined $2.5 billion each year, clearing approximately $1.4 billion annually after expenses.
Historic programs like Michigan and Alabama bring in around $127 million in per year.
A huge portion of that money is used to pay the salaries and severance of these high-profile college football coaches. Many of these coaches, such as Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, have expressed a willingness to expose their players to higher risks of the coronavirus because they are needed to “run money” through their respective states.
Gundy’s stance seems even more appalling now considering how the virus has mutated over the last few months. If it wasn’t apparent before, it is clear that this disease does not discriminate against its victims.
“We don’t know everything about this virus, and we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children,” Fauci said. “We’ve got to be careful that we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
This is why discussions about fall sports — before death rates considerably decrease, and with no vaccine approved — are highly irresponsible.
It would be extremely hard to justify having any type of hybrid class structure that limits the risk of contracting the disease, while simultaneously allowing a portion of students to be subjected to physical contact, sharing of objects, and confined locker room spaces every single day.
If the White House can’t protect its people, how can you protect athletes on campus?
It just wouldn’t work.
Having athletes on campus without a vaccine and likely without a completely open campus will only further illuminate the greed of the NCAA and its member schools.
In a time where action is needed to protect players and communities alike, these decision-makers can’t be given any wiggle room to choose profits over health.
Especially now, with far too many lives still on the line.