SEC, ACC medical advisors give go ahead to move forward with football despite Big Ten, Pac-12 canceling season

By Tom D’Angelo
Palm Beach Post
Florida Gators fans cheer in the student section against Tennessee during a 2019 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Originally published on Aug 11, 2020 at 16:10 

College football took us on another rollercoaster ride Tuesday. Soon after medical advisors for the ACC and SEC told the leagues they are comfortable with the seasons moving forward amid growing concern over the coronavirus, the Big Ten became the first Power Five conference to postpone the season. The Pac-12 followed shortly after.

The decision was based on multiple factors, including medical advice from the Big Ten and Pac-12 Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, according to a news release.

On the other side, Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist who chairs the ACC’s medical advisory team, told Sports Business Daily he expects the conference to continue progressing toward a football season.

“We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe,” he said. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, speaking on The Dan Patrick Show, said his advisory group goes along with the current schedule that has teams starting preseason camp next week.

“Were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point,” Sankey said. “The indicators are we can right now do what we’re doing in a healthy way.”

The Big Ten backed off reports the season was done on Monday, saying no vote had been taken. But 24 hours later, the presidents elected to push back the season and give it a try in the spring. Now, the Pac-12 could follow the Big Ten.

“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,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a news release. “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 backlash could be very damaging. Some Big Ten schools, including Nebraska and Ohio State, have professed a desire to play and said they would explore other options to play a season, which could mean attempting to join another conference that plans to play.

ACC teams hope to get in 11 games, 10 conference and one non-league. The University of Miami opens at home against UAB on Sept. 10. Florida State hosts Georgia Tech Sept. 12. Most teams started fall camp Friday. Florida State president John Thrasher was part of a roundtable discussion with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday and fully supports kicking off the season.

“Our governor is behind us, our coaches are behind us and our team is behind us so let’s get ready to play football,” Thrasher said. “We know we can (play) safety.”

DeSantis even brought up the possibility of players from conferences that shut down transferring to schools in Florida.

Wolfe told ACC commissioner John Swofford we have to “co-exist” with the virus.

“I like that saying because it summarizes a reality that this virus isn’t going anywhere,” Wolfe said. “Whilst it ebbs and flows, we’re not going to see it ebb to zero anytime soon. ...

“So, certain mitigation efforts can be incredibly helpful. We’ve seen that in other countries — sadly not in the United States — where good infection control and good regimented management have allowed groups to co-exist with this virus really well.”

Sankey cited the growing feeling players are safer on campus adhering to each school’s guidelines than if the season was canceled and they were on their own.

“They are in a much more healthy situation working out in our facilities with medical care, with health protocols around COVID in this environment compared to going to lift weights are your local gym,” he said. “Who knows who is overseeing you? What kind of health expectations? What kind of workout? What kind of monitoring. That’s what we, without a doubt, are continuing to do, to support healthy return to competition.”

Florida plans to start preseason camp Monday.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 join Group of Five conferences – Mid-American and Mountain West – that have shut down fall football. Three other schools – UConn, Old Dominion and UMass – have decided not to play football this season. @tomdangelo44