North Texas Daily

College athletes should be wary of returning to sports

College athletes should be wary of returning to sports

College athletes should be wary of returning to sports
July 18
19:22 2020

On March 12, the NCAA announced that it would cancel March Madness for the first time since the beginning of World War II in 1939. This cancellation was due to the increasing surge of COVID-19 cases in the country. Despite cases continuing to surge, the NCAA is making a push to bring athletes back to play.

Let’s call it like it is, this is about money. The NCAA is a billion-dollar organization that has profited off of college athlete’s image, likeness and athletic abilities for decades. The NCAA needs them back to recoup the money they lost from the canceled tournaments and seasons. To put this into perspective, March Madness makes up 75% of the NCAA’s Division 1 income. They bring in around $933 million in revenue from the tournament alone. With the loss of one of the NCAA’s most significant revenue streams, they look to start the college football season on Aug. 29.

According to ESPN, a canceled football season could result in a $4 billion loss for college athletic programs across the country, causing a ripple effect among smaller sports within athletic programs. What gets lost in all of the financial turmoil are the athletes. They will be the ones risking not only their athletic careers but their life beyond their sport. Is the NCAA willing to prioritize money over student’s health? Before there can be an attempt at bringing college games back, they will have to address some concerns.

First, let’s assume there’s going to be a season for college sports. Athletes should be concerned about the lack of a uniform testing protocol within their conference. If a team goes to play an opponent within their conference, how will they know their testing is efficient? Having inconsistent testing and information can lead to infections in areas a team may have overlooked.

For example, UNT’s athletic department had four active COVID-19 cases among its athletes. The athletic department initially tested its athletes through antibody testing and then moved to swab testing once positive cases started increasing in North Texas. They followed their protocol and addressed the problem, but the same can’t be said for their Conference USA rival Middle Tennessee. Middle Tennessee’s football team had players who tested positive for COVID-19 but decided not to release any information. Having a lack of information on opposing team’s cases and protocols should concern the athletes who are at risk while competing.

Furthermore, how will athletic departments encourage athletes to practice social distancing? Although athletic departments can regulate social distancing procedures during practices, how will they prevent in-game infections from rival teams? The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets from actions such as talking, coughing and sneezing. It’ll be difficult for athletes to be mindful of talking during a competition, let alone yelling near an opposing player. If player safety is genuinely valued, how can it be possible to play a contact sport and follow social distancing guidelines?

Although it is crucial to have procedures and protocols for athletes to compete in a safe environment, it doesn’t guarantee absolute safety. Look at the NBA, the professional league has a 113-page safety document to keep their players safe, but there are still concerns from players about their return to play. Now imagine multiple sports at a university pressing to play a season despite not having the procedures nor the insurance a pro athlete has. Without similar protocols for athletes from many schools, they will be sacrificing their health for athletic programs that didn’t communicate.

If a player does test positive for COVID-19, how can they assure athletes it is safe to return after they’re cleared to play? The long-term effects of the coronavirus are still unknown. We know the viruses’ symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath and loss of smell. For example, NBA player Rudy Gobert still struggles to taste food since he contracted the virus in March. Gobert was the first known pro athlete to be infected, which led to the NBA postponing its season. If a well-shaped professional athlete struggles with the virus, it should be a red flag to other athletes.

Seeing that, an athlete with an underlying health condition or fear of getting sick might not want to risk their athletic career. Some athletes may not want to play but fear losing a scholarship or playing time if they miss the season. If they feel uncomfortable playing, schools should give them the option to opt-out of the season without fear of punishment. No guaranteed safety for players means no guaranteed players.

As much fun as it would be for college sports to compete, there are still unanswered questions going into the upcoming seasons. Athletes will be putting their health in the hands of college athletic programs that are losing money. Through the NCAA’s actions, they have managed to answer one question. The NCAA is a business that will prioritize the potential of making money. The NCAA is willing to pay the price to play the games, but are the athletes?

Featured Illustration: Ali Jones

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Zach Thomas

Zach Thomas

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