The NCAA’s chief medical officer is expressing his disappointment with the situation that college athletics finds itself in due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Brian Hainline told reporters during a virtual media briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) that deciding whether to hold college sports seasons this fall has been hampered by the resurgence of COVID-19 across the country, saying that the NCAA had hoped that testing capacity and positivity rates around the country would be lower.
“That hasn’t happened, and it’s made it very challenging to make decisions,” Hainline said. “I don’t know where we’ll be in the spring, but where we are today is exceptionally disappointing.”
Carlos Del Rio, one of the two IDSA doctors on the call, echoed Hainline’s frustration.
“I feel like we have hit the iceberg and we are making decisions about when we should have the band play,” Del Rio said, referring to the sinking of the Titanic. He added that the main focus shouldn’t be on college sports, but getting the pandemic under control.
Del Rio also said that once cities and states across the country report 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people and have a testing positivity rate of less than 5 percent, hot-button issues such as college sports and reopening schools become more feasible.
The Big Ten and the Pac-12 — two of the “Power 5” athletic conferences in NCAA Division I — announced this week that they would be postponing their fall sports seasons, including football, until the spring.
However, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have made it clear that they intend on attempting to have their fall seasons.
Hainline said the NCAA issued a mandate to all of its member schools to serve as a guideline in deciding whether to play fall sports. The documents detail five criteria, such as inadequate testing capacity and a high number of local hospitalizations, that would make playing fall sports impossible.
However, Hainline explained that the governing body has left it up to the schools and various conferences to decide whether they can reasonably meet the guidelines.
“If you cannot do it safely, then you shouldn’t do it,” Del Rio added, pointing to how professional leagues like the NHL and NBA have returned to action safely by implementing a “bubble” in which players reside.
While fall sports encompass a laundry list of sports, football, the main money maker for most Division I athletic programs, has been at the forefront of discussions. Hainline said that schools have done a good job of separating players during practice by position, and maximizing their ability to contact trace if a case occurs. The biggest risk, the doctor asserted, was when teams play in actual games, as it’s hard to know if both teams have been doing all that they should have been doing to mitigate the spread of the virus.
There is also some concern that student athletes who contract COVID-19 can contract myocarditis — a rare but serious condition that causes the middle layer of the heart wall to become inflamed. Myocarditis weakens the heart and can lead to heart failure and in some cases sudden death.
Hainline said the NCAA has received reports on about a dozen cases of myocarditis in student athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Colleen Kraft, the other IDSA doctor on the call, noted her concern over the heart infection
“I am currently … taking care of people that have very sad stories and could have been prevented,” Kraft said. “I think we’re playing with fire. One case of myocarditis in an athlete is too many. I don’t want to see stories of athletes who can no longer can play who had promising careers.”
President Trump, who has attended numerous sporting events during his presidency and is a known sports fan, has made it clear that he wants college sports to be played in the fall.
“I think you should play football,” Trump said earlier this week in an appearance on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s program. “These are young, strong athletes. As you know, this disease has very little impact on young people, the immune system, and plus, they’re in great health. They’re in very good health. And I think you should play football. They want to play football.”