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We are only one week into the Big Ten football season. One game in, and it is already apparent the COVID-19 protocols currently in place aren’t feasible.
First off, the reason Big Ten football was cancelled in the first place was myocarditis. The heart condition linked as a potential side effect to COVID-19 was deemed too big of a risk. The health and safety of players is of the upmost importance.
At one time, we were told that 30-35 percent of Penn State players who contracted the virus had issues with myocarditis. Of course, that assertion proved to be inaccurate, and the doctor who made it had to backtrack.
Despite the retraction, folks still feared for the health and safety of players once the Big Ten announced the return of the fall season. In order to combat the issue of myocarditis, a 21-day policy was created to screen for heart-related conditions in all those who tested positive. Each COVID-positive person would have to undergo a series of tests before returning to action.
Now that we’re in the midst of the season, however, we are quickly finding how unrealistic this protocol is. In an eight-week regular season with no room for schedule changes or postponements, any player or coach who tests positive is forced to miss almost half the season.
If a head coach or star quarterback tests positive, the outcome of a season could be drastically altered. We might see that situation play out with Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz.
It also becomes increasingly difficult to argue for a 21-day window when recent findings suggest that cardiac screenings are unnecessary for those who experience mild or no COVID symptoms. According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, doctors have found that very few COVID-positive athletes are dealing with any sort of heart abnormalities.
If a player experiences severe symptoms, then 21 days away from program activities is reasonable. But since an overwhelming majority of athletes who test positive don’t have severe symptoms, this arbitrary protocol wastes time and resources.
It also puts an entire team’s season at risk.
After dealing with an outbreak that includes Chryst and Mertz, Wisconsin has been forced to opt out of this weekend’s game against Nebraska. And since it takes 21 days to get those players and coaches back, we might be staring down the barrel of a multi-game cancelation.
And for what?
“The vast majority of athletes are falling into the asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic group. The yield and events [of heart abnormalities] are small, based on limited outcome data—very, very small,” says Matthew Martinez, a co-author of the paper on heart-related issues and COVID. “We are seeing that in the NCAA and also professional sports.”
So, we have determined that the financial, emotional and personal impact of canceling games is worth it if it prevents a “very, very small” chance of developing a heart abnormality? If that is the case, we definitely don’t need to tell the Big Ten about CTE.
They might never play football again.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.