David Chao, MD: Spring Football Is Simply Not a Viable Option

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The idea to have college football play in spring is half-baked. At best.

Let’s start by unequivocally stating there is no way to safely play a full spring and fall season in 2021. As a sports medicine expert, the health hazards of such, make that untenable.

Before we dig too deep, let’s also look at how we got here. All systems were (seemingly) a go on August 5th when the Big Ten’s own website announced a fall schedule and medical protocols

Six days later, the fall season was cancelled/postponed.

We fully discussed the COVID myocarditis worries from two opposing viewpoints. 

The latest challenge by Big Ten cardiologists to the myocarditis conclusions backs up my expression that the JAMA article may not hold water clinically and this heart expert even says “we should put little stock in this paper”.

Big Ten fans were disappointed with the decision to cancel the fall sports season. Even parents of athletes have chimed in. The proposal for playing in early 2021 seems more about temporary placation rather than real possibility. 

Moreover, the Big Ten doesn’t even have a firm plan.

The Ohio State and Purdue head coaches have different spring proposals.  At least one head coach isn’t even aware that the league has constructed a subcommittee of coaches and athletic directors to put together a plan for the fall. Any committee without representation from athletic trainers and doctors will also be doomed to failure. As they say in football: “If you have more than one starting QB, it means that you have none.”

Under some of the proposed plans for an alternate season, practices and games would start in winter which might indeed fall into the timeframe of a potential second wave if SARS-CoV-2 acts like other viruses. In addition, many schools have gone to a schedule that has the first semester concluding at Thanksgiving and are asking students to stay home thru December/January. How does a university ask football players to be at school when they send others home for safety? (We won’t even mention the inclement weather as the playing outdoors in winter issues could be solved by moving to a dome.)

This move towards winter versus spring is to give players more time between seasons but also to accommodate the NFL draft. As it stands now, many NFL prospects opt out of late December or January bowl games to prepare for the draft. Is it even logical that these players would choose to play into March, April or even May? Even with a shortened winter/spring season it would be a watered down version with most top players opting out. We have already seen a few projected first-round players opt out.

One Power 5 conference athletic director said with reduced revenues and increased costs (testing and social distancing measures), that there was more of a financial loss to play in fall than cancel. 

If so, spring football would be even more economically lopsided. A limited season with even more limited revenue with essentially the same start up and operational costs is not a monetary equation for success.

Moving forward the Big Ten has placed itself between a rock and a hard place.

If the SEC or other leagues are successful in the fall, that will reflect poorly. If college football is fully cancelled, what are the chances the Big Ten can start practicing in December and playing in January or February? The NFL has taken advantage of great market timing to play and start on time. The Big Ten had six months to prepare for fall football and it is not happening. Why does anyone think in as little as four months there can be a plan for a winter/spring season? Absent a Hail Mary completion of a successful/effective vaccine, I doubt the delayed season can happen.

Given the above realities along with complaints from fans, parents and cardiologists, the chance of the Big Ten reversing field and playing this fall versus having a successful/normal spring football season are about the same, somewhere near cashing a lottery ticket.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


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  1. Seems that moving football into the spring for almost any school would effect and damage other sports trying to use athletic facilities at the same time.

    It will push recruits to ‘uncommit’ and recommit with a school that plays next fall 2021.

    Shutting down American contributed to Riots. What’s gonna happen with major schools shutting down sports and campus life with it.

    It’s all bad. GREAT work Dr Chao!

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