College football isn’t just battling COVID-19, but trust, discipline, protection issues as well
BYU, Utah, Utah State, Weber State, Southern Utah and Dixie State might be welcoming back athletes, but the biggest challenge is yet to come when camps are filled, drills held and classrooms fill. This is tough
This bug is still bugging college football.
The COVID-19 pandemic took just two weeks to take a bite out of college football teams that reported back to controlled workouts as early as June 1. That doesn’t bode well for what’s ahead in 2020 as we get closer to the regular kickoff of the season.
According to reports, Clemson had 28 individuals test positive for the coronavirus, many of them players. Word out of Austin is 13 University of Texas players tested or were “presumed positive” for COVID-19 this past week.
“This season cannot go forward with teams gathered on the field, sidelines, locker rooms and doing contract drills without a modicum of trust. If there’s a sliver of that missing, it all falls down.” — Dick Harmon
Utah had its largest number of positive test results so far this year on Saturday, 643 cases. That same day, South Carolina also reported its highest positive test totals since this issue began. Numbers in Texas and Arizona have soared in recent days, much of it coinciding with what we did as Americans on Memorial Day weekend.
In a sports staff meeting on Friday, my radar went up when one of our editors mentioned that sports fans might be a little naive about the return of college football when you get in the weeds and start looking at what’s happening right now with attempts to restart Major League Baseball and the challenges of that NBA extravaganza in Orlando — and they are in a controlled bubble.
Clemson and Texas — just like Utah, BYU, Utah State, Weber State, Southern Utah and Dixie State — and other programs are using strict protocols as they reopen their facilities for voluntary workouts. These include limited bodies in weight rooms, team meetings restricted to Zoom or other online productions. Training facilities where players get treatments or taped up are limited to small groups. The list goes on.
But this bug keeps biting.
Actually, it doesn’t even have to bite. Just the fear of being infected has some football players pre-preparing for germ warfare by questioning the veracity of their campus leaders. In other words, they don’t trust their school employees, coaches and staff to keep them safe. It’s a pre-emptive strike.
At UCLA this past week, 30 football players signed a letter demanding a third-party medical person be in charge of their health — that they don’t trust head coach Chip Kelly or his staff to keep them safe from infection.
That, in a nutshell, is both alarming and telling.
This season cannot go forward with teams gathered on the field, sidelines, locker rooms and doing contract drills without a modicum of trust. If there’s a sliver of that missing, it all falls down.
Now, the Pac-12’s Bruins, these 30 players, are firing the first salvo of what we may see in the future. A team has some players test positive? Another team, or even teammates, may refuse to show up.
This, folks, could become a bigger issue quick.
The Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of a letter given to UCLA officials by student-athletes claiming there has been dereliction of duty in treatments and health issues in the past and there is no trust. It demands whistleblower protection for anyone lodging complaints or players refusing to show up, that scholarships won’t be taken away.
This language makes it sound like there are some lawyers lurking behind the Gatorade jug.
A portion of the letter read:
“These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected,” the document reads. “If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.
“The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision.”
This, folks, is a simple manifest not to work out, practice or play if it doesn’t feel right.
While it is to be admired that these players are demanding to have their rights respected and their bodies protected, and it’s common sense that UCLA react by doing everything they can to accommodate, placate and protect the athletes, it is such a broad and all-encompassing ask in wake of a bloody and rough game that it brings more questions than answers.
Don’t mistake this UCLA player move as a mere lone wolf player concern. It could spread faster than COVID-19.
Football science demands trust, discipline, organization, loyalty, chemistry, culture, direction, even a military-like atmosphere of compliance and routine.
If a head coach doesn’t have that, what does he have other than bodies he hopes can sweat the way he wants, and that they’ll show up for a drill.
This is crazy folks. These are very tough times.
At national champion LSU, sports writer Ross Dellenger reported at least 30 players were quarantined — some with positive COVID-19 tests, others with contact to those who tested positive, and a portion who were infected at a Baton Rouge nightclub. Tell me in what world college athletes across the country are not going to go to parties, gather for fun, date, et cetera, et cetera.
Nobody knows what is going to go down once the NCAA opens camps for a six-week preparation period in mid-July.
The ride has only just begun and the stories that crop up might be better than the games.
I hope not.