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How Much Concern is There Among LSU, College Football Athletes About a Safe Return in the Fall?

ESPN’s Laura Rutledge reports “growing fear” among college football players about safe return this fall
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A week ago, there was growing optimism that a college football season returning on time in early September was starting to take form. While those plans still haven’t changed, there is that lingering question that will continue until the season officially kicks off.

What would it take to cancel, or at the very least, delay the start of the 2020 season? Last week’s news wasn’t very encouraging at all. It was reported that over 20 Clemson football players were under quarantine for COVID-19. 

Over the weekend, LSU’s early numbers were reported by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. As many as 30 Tigers were at one point quarantined due either to testing positive or being around someone who tested positive. 

It’s an inevitability that the LSU administration and training staff prepared for but still the early numbers are worrisome. With the number of cases that are being reported with no college students on campus, what’s to be expected once over 30,000 are walking alongside these athletes to class?

On Monday, ESPN college football analyst Laura Rutledge reported that there’s a growing sense of concern among college football players about the safe return to a season.

"I'm hearing there are many more cases we don’t know about. That’s to be expected, but I think this is more widespread and a larger volume of cases than people realize in college football,” Rutledge said. “I’m getting a sense of concern from players that wasn’t there just a couple weeks ago. There’s actually some players who are trying to figure out how they could write a letter to the NCAA expressing their concerns.

“But here’s the problem— they want to remain anonymous because they’re concerned that all of the sudden maybe a university would say, ‘Hey, if you’re that worried about this, just quarantine and don't play.’”

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Rutledge makes an interesting point. While it’s great to see these college athletes try and voice their opinions on something this serious, they’re also put in a very difficult position.

Many of these athletes need college football as it’s a stepping stone to the next stage of their football career. For those that don’t wind up in football after college, it’s a way to earn a degree.

“It’s a double-edged sword that while they’re worried about their health, they still really want to play football and want to be given a fair chance to compete,” Rutledge said. “This will continue to be very complicated and I think you’ll see a lot more schools have to enforce quarantine. And still, all of the (athletic directors) and coaches I’ve spoken to are planning on starting college football on time.”

So where does that leave us? College conferences and athletic administrations are continuing to follow the data but as states are reopening, more and more spikes of positive tests are cropping up.

On Monday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards revealed the state isn’t close to Phase 3 of its reopening plan and declared the next 28 days at least to remain in Phase 2. On June 20, Florida reported 4,049 positive cases.

In Texas, 4,430 cases were reported on that same day and as for Louisiana, the numbers aren’t quite as severe but are still surging since the beginning of the month.

“While we know that increasing testing means that we will see more positive cases, we are still troubled by the rising case counts across the state, especially since around 90 percent of these new cases are coming from the community and not from congregate settings like nursing homes,” Bel Edwards said.

Some athletic directors are growing wary of a football season happening come fall, but there is still optimism from most in charge that a season will occur in some form or fashion. Some programs are starting to temporarily shut down voluntary workouts until the cases subside within their programs.

While professional leagues like the NBA and NFL can go into a “bubble” format as a last resort, the logistics of it for colleges is near impossible.

“There's nowhere to go to be in a bubble. You have programs all over the country with different economic situations and testing protocols. I think even if we get to a season, you will see teams that will not play or will not play a full season. It's going to be a jig-saw puzzle of epic proportions.”