Graham Mertz, the star redshirt freshman quarterback of my alma mater Wisconsin, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. A second test confirmed the diagnosis, Dennis Dodd and Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports report. Big Ten protocols, which are stricter than CDC guidelines, stipulate that Mertz must be out for 21 days. He will thus miss games against Nebraska, Purdue, and Michigan. The Big Ten should adjust its protocols to be in line with CDC guidance.
Mertz was the second stringer in camp before Jack Coan went down with a foot injury. The third stringer, Chase Wolf, also reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. We have not yet heard the results of his second test. The fourth stringer is redshirt junior Danny Vanden Boom. Running back Garrett Groshek was a dual threat quarterback in high school, so it’s possible we could see him running some wildcat.
As we wrote verbatim earlier, in some ways, the Big Ten set up its own teams for failure. The 21-day quarantine rule is too long, given what we know about the virus. CDC guidelines recommend that people who have been exposed to COVID-19 quarantine for only 14 days. People who have the virus are advised to self-isolate for 10 days after their symptoms first appear. Those who are asymptomatic should do so for 10 days after receiving positive test results.
The Big Ten also demands that anytime more than five percent of a team tests positive on a seven-day rolling average, the team must shut down for at least a week. It’s not difficult to see that this rule will make it difficult for the Ohio State Buckeyes (or any other Big Ten team) to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Chances are that they or their opponent will exceed this threshold and have to cancel games.
The SEC, ACC, and Big 12 guidelines all stipulate that a player who tests positive must be out for 10 days and that teams must have 53 scholarship players suited up in order for games to take place. By starting sooner than the Big Ten, those conferences built flexibility into their schedules so that games could be postponed instead of canceled.
The Big Ten deserves credit for reversing course and returning to the field, but their protocols are too strict. They should now reverse course once again and adopt CDC guidelines instead.