And yet: Three of the Power Five – the ACC, Big 12 and SEC – plan to play. Three of the Group of Five – the American Athletic, Conference USA and the Sun Belt – plan to play. On Saturday, Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, told CNN: “If the testing in the U.S. stays the way it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports.”
And yet: Earlier Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency authorization for use of SalivaDirect, a test the FDA commissioner called “groundbreaking.” From the WSJ: “The next aim is to prove that SalivaDirect can detect the virus in people who don’t feel sick, as experts consider asymptomatic screening critical to preventing silent transmission and crushing the spread.”
So: If SalivaDirect – which can deliver a result within hours, as opposed to days or weeks, and is cheap enough to be used in mass quantities – is the COVID test we’ve lacked, and if it’s available before what’s left of college football starts, is there indeed a way forward? And if so, should the Big Ten and Pac-12 have waited before deciding not to play?
Justin Fields, briefly a Georgia Bulldog, has launched a #WeWantToPlay petition on MoveOn.org asking that the Big Ten – he now plays, or played, for Ohio State – overturn its considered decision. As of 10:10 a.m. EDT Monday, the petition had received 224,234 signatures. Vox populi!
In the wake of the Big Ten/Pac-12 exits, many have wondered how the other P5ers could view the same medical data and reach a different conclusion. As Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an LSU infectious disease specialist, told the Athletic: “I would say we have seen enough to develop a safe plan. They have not.”
As Tom Mars, a lawyer who has filed waivers for transfers (Fields included) and worked with the NCAA on eligibility issues, told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports: “Not to disparage Dr. Neal at all, but if she had opined it wasn’t safe to play college football this fall, I’m not sure she’d be representing the SEC much longer.”
Over the weekend, the Oregonian asked Oregon State president F. King Alexander, who for six years was LSU’s president, what the Pac-12 sees that the SEC doesn’t? Said Alexander: “I think, probably, reality.”
From the old song regarding Kentucky coal mines and the union: “Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?”
That, folks, is where college football sits – as a political football in a time when everything from masks to medical data to how that data is reported by the MSM is a heated political issue. The six conferences planning to play have headquarters in North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. That’s rather different from being based in California, Illinois, Ohio and Colorado.
Back to our song: “They say in Harlan County/There are no neutrals there/You’ll either be a union man/Or a thug for J.H. Blair.”
(J.H. Blair was a sheriff considered an ally of the mine owners. Not for nothing did the mountain town in question become known as Bloody Harlan.)
It’s hard to imagine that a pandemic, about which you’d think there’d be only one side – how do we survive this thing and get rid of it? – has cleaved us into two camps. Coronabro or COVID denier? Red State or Blue State? Football or no football? But that’s where we are. The federal government has largely recused itself. Policy varies from state to state. School systems vary from county to county, in some cases week to week. The NCAA isn’t strong enough to do much more than drop hints. Conferences see what they want to see.
There are no neutrals here. There’s no clarity, either. There’s just COVID-19, which either is or isn’t a big deal.