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Big Ten football returns for a short season with stringent medical protocols

After waiting for a bit, the conference has decided to play a short season

Parents of Big Ten Football Players Protest Conference Decision to Postpone Football Season
These parents got their wish
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Big Ten conference has decided to play a short season this fall, starting October 24th, with stringent medical procedures in place.

I’m going to parse through the Big Ten Conference’s press release paragraph by paragraph. I’ve highlighted important points for emphasis.

The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition. The COP/C voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020. The decision was based on information presented by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, a working group that was established by the COP/C and Commissioner Kevin Warren to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.

One thing to keep in mind is all 14 Big Ten schools, plus the University of Chicago and probably including associate member Johns Hopkins University intensively collaborate on academics as hard as they play football on the gridiron.

The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.

Daily testing and a second level test sounds thorough.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician, The Ohio State University and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee.

Right now this is preliminary patting on the back, Doc Borchers. Let’s see what happens during the season.

“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”

Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.

This reminds me of the effort the brain injury effort the big ten conference is undertaking with the Ivy League.

All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The registry and associated data will attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes.

Given the short season, I hope the players at every school take every precaution to maximize playing time.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” said Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President, and Chair of the Return to Competition Task Force Steering Committee. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

This is more preliminary back-patting and congratulations. Yes, figuring all this out is all well and good, but could we have done this, oh, I don’t know, back in the summer so the teams could be playing now?

The Big Ten Conference will use data provided by each Chief Infection Officer (CInO) to make decisions about the continuation of practice and competition, as determined by team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average:

Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):
• Green 0-2%
• Orange 2-5%
• Red >5%

Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):
• Green 0-3.5%
• Orange 3.5-7.5%
• Red >7.5%

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:
• Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.
• Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).
• Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

Ok, This seems fairly straightforward. Stay out of the red zone.

The daily testing will begin by September 30, 2020. Eventually all Big Ten sports will require testing protocols before they can resume competition.

Updates regarding fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling, will be announced shortly.

Shouldn’t this all have been done in the summer? Was the conference being too cautious? Should we even be bothering?

Let us know in the comments!