There is no right way for an athletic department to handle a pandemic such as the one we are currently in.
There is a wrong way, however.
Back in April, Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy offered one such example:
“In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them,” he said via SI.com. “They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have.
“There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
Gundy has long since apologized for those comments — and other issues he has brought upon himself and the program — but no doubt there were and are many who share a similar view.
Nowadays we have seen plenty of reports about how widespread Covid-19 is among college athletes, with Clemson, Oklahoma, LSU and others making headlines.
This week Arizona had its turn in the news, as the state’s surging case number led to the school pausing its re-entry plan.
That decision prompted some tweets from a handful of football players, with defensive back Malik Hausman’s earning plenty of attention.
So why me and my team on campus then? https://t.co/qbY5y0GSbt— Malik Hausman (@LeekHausman) June 30, 2020
He had a point.
If the campus is not deemed to be safe for students, well, football players are students and therefore it would not be deemed safe for them.
The workouts players have been participating in are voluntary, though anyone who knows anything about football understands the word should probably be put in quotation marks.
In normal circumstances that would not really be a problem. In some ways, it’s part of the deal.
These are not normal circumstances. Not even close.
In an exchange with a USC fan Hausman went on to explain that he was not professing fear of Covid-19 nor did he mean to imply that the school wasn’t taking appropriate precautions.
“In my opinion my school is doing everything the best way possible to avoid being affected by COVID 19,” he added. “My concern is the season.”
Hausman’s opinion on Arizona’s handling of things was echoed by the parents of players Colin and Brenden Schooler, who praised the job done by all involved in the navigation of this unique situation.
They noted a confidence that the school has “the student-athletes best interest in mind while making decisions,” pointing out they would not have sent their kids back to Tucson nor think they should stick around if they didn’t think it was safe.
The school deserves credit for that.
Providing an environment that gives players and their families confidence is not easy to do right now, and up to this point Arizona seems to have done exactly that, with just one of the 83 student-athletes on campus testing positive for Covid-19.
That’s why Arizona football’s workouts will continue, albeit with fewer participants as some will understandably head home.
Whatever players decide to do, this upcoming college football season is in peril. Arizona’s first game is supposed to happen in less than two months, on Aug. 29, in Tucson.
Does anyone think it will happen as scheduled?
Heeke said they’ll have a better idea by the end of this month which makes sense. The school and team will need time to get the gears in motion if they are to play in Week Zero.
It’s not just them, however.
Unfortunately while Arizona may be doing everything right, they will not get to play their season in a vacuum. They need Hawaii to stay safe and healthy and be ready for a game. Then Portland State. Then Texas Tech and so on and so forth.
Oh, and they’ll need their opponents’ opponents to do the same.
There’s a reason we’re starting to see stories about the NCAA’s and Pac-12’s contingency plans, which range from shrinking the schedule to only include conference games or pushing the season’s start back to the spring to outright canceling it altogether.
Given the amount of money involved that is undoubtedly the least preferable option. Everyone wants football to happen, just it cannot be at the expense of the players’ health due to something that has nothing to do with the sport.
Every football player understands they could be one play away from injury, possibly one that has long-term affects on their careers and lives.
Injuries are one thing; a deadly virus is another.
There’s no blueprint for how to handle this and it’s unlikely anyone involved ever anticipated having to navigate this environment. That’s the reality, and in a time where others have said the wrong things and provided questionable plans Arizona is doing the opposite.
Is the University of Arizona doing things the right way? As I said there may not be one, or at least not one we can be sure of right now.
But if nothing else, the school is doing right by its players, and that’s the most important thing of all.