Tramel: Football in a pandemic is not colleges' biggest problem
Assorted college football conferences have postponed their seasons until the spring. Others, including our accustomed Big 12, have pressed on. Games remain scheduled for September.
Leading to a question. Why are we playing football in a pandemic? The gridiron is the enemy of social distancing. Spread offenses have made football a little less like rugby, but still, veterans of the sport tell horror stories about life at the bottom of the pile. Now you can add the coronavirus to the mayhem. Breathing on each other could be more lethal than biting or gouging.
But the events of recent weeks have raised a different question. Why wouldn’t everyone play football in a pandemic? Doesn’t the early data show that football players are safer in the football cocoon?
Players were homebound for months until recalled to campus in mid-June (most squads) or July. Many already had tested positive for the virus or did so upon return. Fourteen each at OU and OSU, for example.
Then only one Sooner tested positive for more than a month while under football supervision. The Cowboys declined to release information, but the number is believed to be low. Except OSU had a big jump in cases coming back from Fourth of July break, and OU reported nine new cases among its players after a six-day break last week.
Those trends are not rare. All over America, the virus is relatively squelched when football players are sequestered, regularly tested and reminded to stay low-key on a campus that is relatively empty.
But when players are back home, or get leave from helicopter coaches, or the general student body returns, the numbers spike.
“The preseason camp is about as close to a bubble as you're going to get with college students,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. A bubble is a magic elixir. The NBA has a bubble and has played unencumbered. Baseball has no bubble and has run like a ’77 Pinto.
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Under these circumstances, football players stay together, eat together, train together, meet together.
“So I do think that within the athletics facilities, we can do a really good job,” Bowlsby said.
But can young people outside the football nest discipline themselves to not party, to bypass the bars, to cover up those 20-year-old faces with masks? Uh, not bloody likely. Scene after scene shows us that college students aren’t all that interested in social distancing.
If university cases climb, that could spell the end of football, even if football is adeptly dodging the virus.
‘‘In terms of students coming back, I think that's the concern of every single college football coach in the country right now,’’ Lincoln Riley said. ‘‘The numbers game becomes much more difficult.’’
COVID-19’s short-term effects appear to be minimal on healthy young people. But the long-term effect is unknown, especially on the heart and lungs. Football players are susceptible, but not because they’re football players. Contracting the virus at a frat party is not different from contracting the virus while trying to block a linebacker. COVID is no respecter of person.
Football, through its protocols and motivation, mostly is getting the desired results. Football players appear to be more virus-safe preparing for a season than they were when part of a national shutdown.
So why all the hand-wringing over football? Why all the consternation over the sport giving it a go? Football is the least of our problems. The question is not, why are we playing football in a pandemic? The question is, why are we opening universities in a pandemic?
We know the answer. Finances. And it’s a valid reason. We shut down the country in March, and it wasn’t pretty. But it was effective.
Remember in those early days, when wise football people said we’d be having no football until the institutions were open? It’s possibly the inverse is true. Playing football might work; bringing 20,000 students to Norman and 20,000 students to Stillwater each is the shaky idea.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.