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Big Ten Reverses Field, Ignoring Reality on Its Campuses

Individuals of a number of fraternities and sororities at Michigan State College were ordered to isolate for 2 weeks after a coronavirus outbreak on campus. Wisconsin’s chancellor instructed scholars to “seriously prohibit” their actions after greater than 20 p.c of its assessments on scholars over Exertions Day weekend got here again sure. At Iowa, the place the autumn semester is not up to a month outdated, greater than 1,800 scholars have examined sure, and there are a whopping 221 instances within the athletic division on my own.

It used to be in contrast backdrop that the Giant Ten Convention, with the virus operating rampant on lots of its campuses, reversed direction on Wednesday and declared it will play soccer beginning subsequent month. Convention leaders, who most effective 5 weeks in the past postponed the autumn season till the spring, stated the science associated with the pandemic had modified such a lot over the intervening 36 days that it used to be now secure to play.

The best way the verdict used to be met with hallelujahs in locker rooms, coaches’ workplaces, the warrens of social media occupied through die-hard lovers or even at the White House — to mention not anything of congratulations presented up through a number of newshounds on a convention name with Giant Ten leaders — it would have appeared as though Jonas Salk had risen and delivered a brand new vaccine.

Alas, a extra becoming symbol is that this: the convention presidents, fitted with fire-retardant fits, ordering any other cocktail whilst their properties persevered to burn.

Commissioner Kevin Warren, who was filleted last month for cloaking the decision not to play in secrecy, promised transparency on Wednesday. And then, a few minutes later, he refused to say who the Big Ten was contracting with for the testing.

When the Pac-12, another of the nation’s biggest conferences, pulled the plug on football on Aug. 11, only hours after the Big Ten, it at least cited three criteria for a potential return to play: improved testing, more information on virus-related side effects (including heart inflammation) and a reduction in community infection rates.

The Big Ten said it was addressing many of those concerns. In addition to daily testing, it said it would require all coronavirus-positive athletes to undergo a cardiac M.R.I. exam. But those expensive machines rarely exist in college towns; the closest one to Penn State, for example, is a nearly two-hour drive away, in Harrisburg, Pa. “Access would be a major issue if we said every athlete needed to get one of these,” said Dermot Phelan, a cardiologist in Charlotte, N.C., who is an adviser to the Atlantic Coast Conference, whose teams have already begun their seasons.

As for community infection rates, there are no stated thresholds that would keep the Big Ten from playing. James Borchers, the team doctor at Ohio State, who directed Saturday’s medical presentation to the conference’s presidents, said the important metrics are the team positivity rate (among the players) and the population positivity rate (players, coaches, staff). If the players test above 5 percent or the population rate exceeds 7.5 percent over a seven-day period, football activities must cease for seven days, the league said.

But John Swartzberg, an infectious disease professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, said that broader campus and community infection metrics should be essential in determining whether sports are played. Swartzberg, who said he was speaking for himself and not the Pac-12 medical advisory board, of which he is a member, added: “To assume otherwise essentially says that the athletes are living in a bubble completely unrelated to the surrounding community.”

Of course, that seems to be precisely the point for the Big Ten.

By now, it is a hollow exercise to wonder if the same testing regimen being created for and offered to the Northwestern football team will be presented to Northwestern’s theater department or marching band — at least not until they, too, bring in the millions of dollars in television revenue that the athletic department does.

Instead, the Big Ten’s decision to play football this fall — just like those of the other conferences who have returned to the field already — has stripped bare another layer of college football’s veneer. What the pandemic has done is make even more clear how it is past time to replace the term student-athlete with a more contemporary one: essential employee.

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