BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Scott Dolson isn't a doctor, and he's never even played one on TV. He's simply an athletic director at Indiana, and he's just a few weeks into his new job.
That job, however, is consumed by talk — and actions — that deal with medical issues and protocols literally every minute of every day. That's the world we live in now during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's Dolson's responsibility to keep hundreds of student-athletes safe and healthy, as well as the coaches and staff members who are around them every day.
It's a daunting challenge, especially for someone who's only been on the job since July 1. The long-time assistant athletic director inherited these trying times from Fred Glass, and since then, everything he does practically revolves around COVID-19 and its impact on his department.
Because of these unprecedented times, Dolson said in his first media gathering on Thursday that he's been in "hundreds of meetings'' thus far, both on campus and with Big Ten and NCAA leaders. And as athletes return to campus and football players begin practicing like they did on Thursday, Dolson said EVERY decision is based on advice of medical experts, and not accountants staring at massive budget shortfalls.
"I can tell you our decisions here are based on what our medical experts tell us,'' Dolson said during a Zoom conference call. "And for me, if you have that confidence that you trust the medical advice, you're not going to put anyone in a position with a level of risk.
"If the medical experts tell us not to do it, we won't do it. That's genuine, and that's the way it is. So I don't feel pressure from other factors like the financial implications of what might happen. We'll work through that. In my position as a leader, I need to be ready for that, and for us to be ready for that, but if you believe that and you trust that, I'm confident we'll make the right choices going forward.''
It was a huge decision by the Big Ten to go forward with a football season. Thus far, half of the league schools have had to pause voluntary workouts because of positive virus tests, including Indiana.
Dobson said he took the advice of Indiana's medical group to pause football workouts after more than a dozen positive test results, but he also took their advice to resume them, and to let practice begin on Thursday.
They have a plan, he said, and it's on everyone to follow them,
"We control what we can control. All of our positives to date have been from outside of the department. They've been from social activity outside the department. And when the students return to campus, that heightens our concern.
"But as I've met with them, they're committed. They want to play, and they understand its a parternship and they have to handle the protocols outside of the program that same way they do inside the program.''
Indiana has released the total number of tests and positive results every week or two all summer, but due to privacy laws, they haven't released any information about who tests positive. But earlier this week, the mother of Indiana freshman offensive tackle Brady Feeney had a Facebook post go viral in asking for prayers for her son, who caught the virus and was so sick he had to go to the emergency room. He's feeling better now, but there are some concerns he has some heart issues, according to his mother, Debbie Rucker.
It was a scary time, Dolson said, because he's well aware that the numbers say younger people can fight through the virus better than elderly people, but what happened to Feeney showed the dangers of this virus, even for strong and healthy teenagers.
"I've always been concerned about the unknown. Always,'' Dolson said. "I'm extremely confident in our medical team, and for us, it's not just to focus on when a student aquires a virus. For us, it's really critical in analyzing their return to play, too. Our medical team is as good as it gets, and they are very thorough and cautious in the testing and analytics that go on.
"As I meet with parents and talk to our student athletes, it's not only short term and about protecting people from getting the virus. We can't guarantee that; wish we could. But if you do get it, you'll get the best treatment possible. They'll want to play, but you won't be cleared to play until the doctors give you the thumbs up. That's critical, and that's got to happen.''
Players and coaches were out on the football field Thursday, wearing masks and keeping distance whenever possible. But on Saturday, the third day of practice, the pads go on and there will be hitting in every practice. And four weeks and change from now, Indiana will open it's season on Friday, Sept. 4 at Wisconsin.
Pandemic permitting, of course. The whole thing could still get shut down, especially if more outbreaks occur on many of the Big Ten's 14 campuses.
"At schools across the country and even across the Big Ten, you've seen different numbers and every situation is a little different,'' Dolson said. "As we work through this moving forward to the season, It's one of those situations where I wish I could say it's this (number), but I honestly believe I don't feel from my perspective the pressure to make that call (to stop the season).
"I trust completely our medical advisory group, and if they say for various reasons, it could be a smaller number of cases or close contact or other factors, that I would trust their judgment and support them 100 percent.''
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