As most know by now, UND’s Football season was officially ‘postponed‘ last last week due to a variety of issues all relating to COVID-19. This is obviously devastating news to many and not something that was taken light by anybody. As a matter of fact, as I am typing this the Big 10 is leaking that they are contemplating shutting it down as well.
Which means college football for 2020 could be over at all levels unless the P5 conferences figure something out soon.
We at UND Football 360 are disappointed, to say the least. Our blog is based solely on UND Fighting Hawks Football – meaning we don’t do anything else! Yes there is recruiting, spring ball, off-season moves, etc. These days we definitely stay busy year-round and having the season postponed doesn’t make us stagnate. But, it’s still a shock to not have college football this fall. It’s like having all sides & dessert but no steak.
As I pointed out above, there are a variety of issues at play here. The schools needed to test the players & staff and with that comes cost. The schools needed to completely re-tool their practice and meeting setups to create distancing. The schools needed to contact trace after a positive, which is not easy and time consuming. Basically, the schools were putting so much time into trying to keep the players safe that they weren’t actually focused on the activity itself.
But the biggest issue, the 800 pound gorilla if you will, was the testing protocol. The protocol that followed CDC guidelines, which were adopted by every state. The NCAA simply advised the schools to follow them when implementing testing, tracing, etc.
On social media I have seen a ton of vitriol directed towards the schools for “chickening out” and also not realizing that “college-aged kids may get the virus but if they do are more than not asymptomatic and in great health”. While this is generally true it has nothing to do with the decision making process that ultimately resulted in postponing the season for all of D2, D3 FCS, and possibly all of FBS.
Here are the reasons why nobody is playing this fall: the testing was too expensive, too stringent, and not in line with the reality of college athletics. End of story.
Worrying about the playoffs is skipping A, B, & C to get to D. Coaches are just trying to pull off one day of practice & meetings, let alone get ready for a game in 3-4 weeks or worry about a schedule.
The day-to-day issues are the major problem, not the big picture.
— UNDFootball360 (@UNDFootball360) August 5, 2020
In my opinion, the end of 2020 college football had very little to do with fear of the virus itself or the health & welfare of the student athletes. It had everything to do with schools not being able to follow the CDC guidelines and associated costs when it comes to test/trace. By not being able to, I mean not even having a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling it off. At least not honestly.
You may be saying to yourself: how can an organization that oversees collegiate athletics (NCAA) not help implement a COVID-19 testing protocol that is in line with collegiate athletics? A protocol that is actually possible to execute and takes in certain factors (age, health) of the participants, while also realizing that distancing issues are real. Honestly I don’t know but they didn’t. They used CDC guidelines and that was that.
I have some thoughts but they are just my thoughts, constructed around conversations I have had with staff at several schools. The NCAA had to have known that every small school in the country could not afford to test & trace their athletes weekly throughout the fall season. Which makes me wonder if they set the bar so high that things took care of themselves? Plus, no liability.
Back to what you are all here for – the testing protocol. Here is what we could gather on how it actually worked for many collegiate football programs if actually implemented correctly:
- At UND, weekly tests took place for the entire team on campus. Every week since the end of June (5 or 6 rounds to date). We believe UND was the only MVFC school to have been testing every week but don’t know for a fact.
- Testing applies to players, coaches, trainers, equipment staff, front office staff, etc. Which means contact tracing applies also. More on that below.
- The NCAA wanted the teams to get results back in 72 hours to be eligible for the game that week. That turnaround time was NOT happening in the State of North Dakota – it was more like 4-5 days from what we have been told. Meaning the Hawks would’ve had to test every Monday and hope to get the results back by Friday. The rub: they practice T-W-TH. What if the starting QB comes back positive on Friday? Uh-oh. Or any starter for that matter.
- Back to summer testing. When Player A got his results back he would notify the team if positive (or negative). Here is where it gets weird, y’all. Player A is now in quarantine for 10 days (10 because he already has it). If that player is not local, therefore simply couldn’t go home, he could ended up getting setup at a dorm or hotel all by himself for that time period (this type of quarantine did not happen everywhere). No workouts, nothing. Then, the contact tracing starts.
- The mandated contact tracing is then executed within a day or so by the state. They find anyone and everyone Player A may have been within six feet of for more than 15 minutes cumulative over the course of a day. Cumulative. So let’s think about roommates, buddies, an offensive or defensive huddle, the locker room, sharing a car home from practice, going to the grocery store together for some groceries, etc. If Player A is honest the list can be fairly lengthy or at the very least have a few people on it. We mention IF the player is honest because it is very easy to lie to the contact tracers if you want to (we have heard there may have been some issues with that in the FBS ranks lately).
- The next problem with contact tracing – the head coach doesn’t know who Player A is going to name. So guess what happens? Practice/workouts are shutdown until the tracing takes place & the results come back (usually within 24 hours). As in the entire team = shutdown (not just Player A).
- So the tracing comes back and let’s say Players B, C, and D are named. Off to the dorm/hotel they go to be quarantined for 14 days, not 10 like Player A. It’s 14 days for them because they are in the incubation period, technically. Round and round we go.
- In the MVFC, we did not hear of any other programs doing mass testing. We know the state of South Dakota didn’t really push it for their schools and Governor Noem seems fairly lax when it comes to Covid issues. Illinois State is actually practicing right now, which tells us there is no way in hell they are testing every week. Northern Illinois was having issues meeting the criteria and the state of Illinois has been no help to their universities. It’s the logistical nightmare to end all logistical nightmares.
Now extrapolate that process out over the next 4 months of the season, folks. Do you understand why they all decided to shut it down? If implemented according to CDC guidelines, it was quite literally impossible for a collegiate athletic program to function. Starters out for 14 days, underdeveloped rookies thrust into action before they are ready, injuries pop up as a result. Rinse, repeat.
I hate that it came to this but the lack of direction from the NCAA by simply referring to federal and state guidelines was the death of college football in 2020. If they had taken over in May/June and said “we are shutting it down because it isn’t possible to keep our athletes from getting Covid” or on the flip side laid out their own program to follow that was more lax than the CDC guidelines but made sense for 18-23 years old students in their peak physical condition, everyone would be in a much better spot right now. Instead, they did next to nothing and suggested protocols that really don’t apply.
I would go as far as to say that if there were more realistic testing protocols for the football programs they would be playing this fall. Maybe with no fans or limited attendance like the NBA & MLB, but they would be playing.
I feel terrible for the players and coaches that got prepared all spring/summer only to have the rug ripped out from underneath them at the very last second. We will continue covering this topic and from what we are hearing a “fall football season” (similar to spring ball) may be in the works around the country. But, if the testing/tracing protocols still apply it will be a mess, like it is now.