My Two Cents: Notre Dame's COVID Outbreak Should Have Big Ten on Red Alert

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There was no way the Big Ten was ever going to backtrack on its fall football plans without having a rock-solid plan in place. The league's presidents and chancellors are too smart, too cautious, too careful.

And too scared.

The ability to test for COVID-19 every day with antigen testing was a complete game-changer for the league. Starting next week, every single player, coach and staff member around all 14 Big Ten programs will be tested every morning with a test paid for by the league. Indiana is already doing that themselves until Sept. 30, footing the bill to keep close track on everyone.

The goal with daily testing it to create something of a moving bubble, with the hope being that no one tests positive, but if you someone does, they can immediately be isolated and quarantined.

Any outbreak, in a perfect world, should stop at one. 

The reasoning behind it became very clear this week, when a large outbreak happened at Notre Dame, and their 2020 season — one filled with a ton of promise — is now on hold. Practice has been paused for the second time in a month, and their game with Wake Forest on Saturday had to be postponed. They thought about trying to reschedule it for Oct. 3, a Notre Dame bye week, but eventually settled on Dec. 12 after Wake Forest juggled their schedule a bit. 

The next concern will be the Oct. 10 home game with Florida State, thought most everyone in quarantine should be good to go by then if all goes well.

On Monday, seven Notre Dame players tested positive, and six others were positive the week before. All 13 are in isolation, and because of contact tracing, 10 others are in quarantine.

That's nearly a quarter of their roster, and it might even be higher, according to our Sports Illustrated Irish Breakdown insider Bryan DriskelI. No wonder they couldn't play Saturday.

COVID spreads so fast that the daily testing is a must. Just look how quickly the tentacles reached out. South Florida was Notre Dame's opponent last Saturday and they came back home to Tampa and paused their own workouts because of the Notre Dame results. According to the Tampa Bay Times, South Florida didn't have any positive results on Monday, but were testing again on Wednesday and they didn't have those results back yet.

That was still enough to force them to postpose Saturday's in-state rivalry game with Florida Atlantic and their former coach, Willie Taggart. That's a problem, and it will continue to be an issue across the college football landscape. 

One domino keeps knocking over another.

“We were aware going into this season and have seen across the country that dealing with COVID-19 and taking the necessary precautions to mitigate its spread will present ongoing challenges,” USF athletic director Michael Kelly said Wednesday.

“We are prepared to deal with those challenges and move forward in a safe manner. We will resume on-field team activities once our medical professionals are comfortable with us doing so and will work in good faith with FAU to identify a future date to reschedule the game.”

Big Ten still hoping for the best

The Big Ten has its collective fingers crossed because they are going to try to play an eight-game schedule in eight weeks, with no bye weeks and zero chance to juggle the schedule. If a team can't play, that game would have to be cancelled, not postponed.

That's why it was somewhat surprising that the Big Ten opted to wait until Oct. 24 to start. It might have made more sense to start Oct. 10 with two bye weeks, or Oct. 17 with one. Now, they have no wiggle room.

They're hoping they don't need it, but in any case, every school, including Indiana, has alternate plans in place. Indiana coach Tom Allen said he really wants to go into the season three-deep at every position in case someone tests positive. If they do, they must sit out 21 days, the first two weeks in quarantine and the third week for a complete barrage of medical testing, including the heart.

Allen also talked earlier about having contingency plans among the coaching staff if someone tests positive. The same rules apply for them if they test positive, so if a coordinator or position coach has to miss three weeks, someone has to step in and/or do double duty. 

Florida State is have to go through that right now. They have a huge rivalry game in primetime Saturday night, but they'll have to do it without new head coach Mike Norvell, who caught the virus last week,

Deputy head coach Chris Thomsen is in charge until Norvell is able to return, and he said that practices and meetings have been "as close to normal as possible."

"With the way we learned to operate on Zoom and the different things that we've been able to do, it's just another step in trying to let technology help you out," Thomsen said.

It's the same everywhere. Next man up.

Still a long time until kickoff

In four weeks, Indiana is scheduled to play a football game. The season starts on Oct. 24 in Bloomington against Penn State, a consensus top-10 team. But there's still a long way to go to get there safe and sound, for players and coaches alike.

Just ask Florida State. Just ask Notre Dame — and then South Florida and then Florida Atlantic. 

Ask the Houston Cougars, too. They have had four scheduled season openers now this month — and all four games have been postponed. How frustrating does that have to be?

It's all supposed to be different, of course, in the Big Ten. The plan is in place, and it is a good one. But it still needs to play itself out, one day after another for close to a month. 

What we've learned from the Notre Dame situation is that testing only a few times a week isn't enough. The NFL Players Association fought that fight too, demanding daily testing before returning to practice in late July. It's worked, too. Leading up to the games in Week 1, thousands of tests were administered, and not a single person tested positive.

The Big Ten can only hope to be so lucky. As happy as we are to see football again on Saturdays, there are still many hurdles to clear. Learning as we go, we've seen that it doesn't take much to start a run on positive tests.

Will the daily tests be enough to avoid that? We'll have to see.