Illini LB Milo Eifler On His Concerns Playing During A COVID-19 Pandemic: 'We're not superheroes'

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Milo Eifler has lots of questions about whether it is safe to play tackle football during the coronavirus pandemic. 

And it doesn't seem like anybody at the NCAA or University of Illinois can answer all of those questions for the senior linebacker. 

When asked if he would feel comfortable starting the 2020 season with the current safety protocols in place, Eifler responded with a question of his own. 

"Do we have a vaccine?" Eifler asked with a smile. "I don't know. The football player in me wants to put on pads right now. Just leaving the house to go to the grocery store, I know everyone has been a little bit scared about 'What if I go eat with my friend on Friday in an outdoor-seated restaurant?' You want to do those things but in the back of your head you're like, 'Dang, I don't know. Is it right?'" 

The projected starting linebacker may consider taking a pass on the 2020 season if plans proceeded without a vaccine being available and distributed. 

"I don't know. That's kind of why I started this and [an Illinois athletics spokesperson] asked me if I wanted to talk [to media] today and I said, 'Hell yeah'," Eifler said. "If there was a vaccine? Of course, [if there was a vaccine] all college football players would be like, 'Put me in right now'. In the back of your head, you're like ,'There's no vaccine, there's no way to, there's quarantining and after the quarantining, I guess I'm okay so I won't catch the virus again.' But then there's long-term effects. There's always this back and forth, you know what I'm saying? From the bottom of my heart, I love football. I want to play with my guys...all of that coming from an athlete. But then, coming from the personal side, there's questions like, 'What if I catch it and I can't go see my parents anymore?' That's kind of where I'm at right now." 

A single tweet expressing worry over playing football during a current coronavirus pandemic has caused concern among the University of Illinois athletics department.

A few hours before his scheduled Zoom video conference with local media, Illinois linebacker Eifler posted a tweet publicly wondering why university administrators were still insistent on having the 2020 college football season start on time.

“I understand that people want to see us play this season but in reality how can a team full of 100+ student athletes fully function during a pandemic,” Eifler said on Twitter. “Trust, my teammates and I want to play. But schools around the country are showing blatant disregard for student athletes.”

Eifler's tweet was retweeted and commented on by several Illini teammates on Wednesday afternoon. 

In an email sent out by the University of Illinois athletics communication department, Eifler’s Zoom conference with local media was postponed “until a later date”.

“We are postponing Milo Eifler’s Zoom interview until a later date,” an Illinois athletics spokesperson wrote in the mass email to media. “We are taking this time to learn about Milo’s concerns expressed on Twitter.”

The "later date" became a few hours later as Eifler spoke to the local media for nearly an hour about his concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and what protocols can be put in place to make him feel comfortable to play this upcoming 2020 college football season. Eifler said he spoke to both Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman and head football coach Lovie Smith over the phone after he sent out his tweet but before he spoke to the local media Wednesday afternoon. 

Eifler’s concern over the COVID-19 pandemic follows a University of Illinois computer science professor providing some data to CBS Sports on infection rates and death rates regarding the disease.

Illinois professor Dr. Sheldon Jacobson told CBS Sports he expects a “30 percent to 50 percent infection rate of the approximately 13,000 players competing in FBS this season”. Based on his research, he also projects three to seven deaths among those players or supporting staff members due to the virus.

"A few of them could end up in the hospital, and you'll have a small number who could die," Jacobson told CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd. "I don't want to sugarcoat it for you. I just want to give you the facts...If everybody comes together under normal circumstances, we'll probably see that kind of outcome."

Eifler, a Washington transfer, had 12 starts in 13 games last season for the Illini defense. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker finished the 2020 campaign with 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one pass broken up and one fumble recovery. Eifler, who is a native of Berkeley, Calif., had a sack in front of his home state fans on the first defensive play of the game in the 2019 Redbox Bowl loss to California.