College football faces challenges to return with bubble setting ‘impossible’

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s highest-ranking specialist in infectious diseases, made a statement on Thursday that tempered the expectations of football fans hoping for a fall season to proceed as usual.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

Such an environment is set for Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, where the NBA and MLS will resume their seasons.

Football teams have far more players on their rosters, but if such a bubble-type setting was necessary for the sport’s return, it does not seem feasible for the NCAA.

“If you look at what Dr. Fauci said (Thursday) morning,” Miami Hurricanes medical director and head team physician, Dr. Lee Kaplan, said on a web panel with Newswise, “he doesn’t think we’re going to be able to play football without a bubble. That’s impossible in college sports.

“There’s a high level of exposure of college students just meeting in the dorms and their living conditions and then we have limited facilities with 500-plus athletes at the University of Miami. Some schools like Florida, Wisconsin, they have 800 to 1,000 athletes.

“I was talking to an NBA player, and the whole idea that they’re going to go to Orlando, they’re much more restricted in terms of who they’re going to be around than somebody that’s in college and their comings and goings.”

University of Miami president Dr. Julio Frenk told CNBC in May that he is “pretty confident” students will be able to return to campus for the fall semester. He said two positives at UM are the opening of new residential facilities for students while delaying the demolition of old dorms, so the university can avoid density in students living together, and the creation of a system where students rotate whether they’re online or in the classroom on a given day to keep class sizes down.

UM began its phased approach for student-athletes’ return to campus on Monday by getting 65 football players that live in South Florida back for voluntary workouts with a trainer present.

The Hurricanes are assuring their players that they are not forced to participate in the season if they have health concerns over the spread of coronavirus, according to Kaplan.

“If a player doesn’t want to play because of COVID, they won’t lose their scholarship,” Kaplan said. “At least at the University of Miami, we’ve already spoken about that. If they’re not comfortable playing with the conditions, they don’t have to.”

Kaplan also mentioned that Miami will be in communication with opponents over what schools have done with regards to testing and ensuring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines are being followed, noting Michigan State with the Hurricanes scheduled to play in East Lansing on Sept. 26.

Earlier in May, Frenk, a public health expert who once served as Mexico’s Minister of Health, suggested that college football may be played in empty stadiums come the fall.


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