As COVID-19 and myocarditis concerns continue to influence both public opinion and the direction of college football going forward, Venk Murthy, who is the Rubenfire Professor of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, finds it prudent to carefully parse through the data to determine what is actually useful.

Recently, the Journal of American Medical Association released a study warning the public about how contracting the COVID-19 virus could lead to heart problems down the road, such as myocarditis. This study has made the rounds and was used as a primary source to reinforce the postponement of Big Ten football from the Fall.

However, Murthy sought to fact check this study because he believed it was being used in a way that did not properly reflect the information conveyed. And with a situation as crucial as this one, adhering to the utmost standards of accuracy is absolutely critical.

“The cardiac MRI study of COVID patients recently published in JAMA cardiology has a number of issues,” Murthy told Wolverine Digest. “The most serious of them are irregularities in the statistics which suggest either serious errors or perhaps even manipulation. These were identified by Prof. Darrel Francis and Graham Cole, cardiologists at Imperial College London.”

According to Murthy, these statistical red flags could have been used to form a more scathing conclusion about how dangerous myocarditis is when viewed through the lens of COVID-19 as a whole. Unfortunately, questions regarding the study did not cease there. 

“In addition, I am concerned even the controls they used seem to have very high rates of abnormalities like moderate to large amounts of fluid around the heart which would not be expected in normal individuals,” Murthy said.

As part of any scientifically viable study, JAMA outlined a group of controls to use as a baseline for the research, but Murthy suggests that this, too, may have missed the mark.

“Finally, most of the abnormalities they identify have not been defined as medically actionable and may have limited or no long term consequence,” Murthy said. “This is particularly a concern in elite athletes where many subtle abnormalities can be found either acutely after events like marathons or chronically with both blood tests and MRI scans. We don't know if these are bad signs or neutral.”

In short, there is not enough concrete information regarding the heart issues that have been dubbed myocarditis to truly determine how large of a warning sign the heart condition actually is. The scientific information at play is growing on a daily basis, but Murthy indicates that there is not enough information present to discern its relevance.

But on a larger scale, football is a game played among high level athletes and is a full contact sport that puts individual health on the line each time a player straps up his chinstrap. The physical consequences of playing tackle football are pronounced and need to be weighed in conjunction with the perceived added danger of playing during the COVID-19 era.

“The decision about allowing kids to play is very complex and involves many risks other than myocarditis,” Murthy said. “So, while the Big 10 decision very well be the correct one based on the many complex issues at hand, I don't believe the decision should be based on this myocarditis paper. In truth, I would probably have more concern about CTE than COVID myocarditis.”

It is particularly telling that the coronavirus pandemic has not overtaken the latent dangers of football in Murthy's opinion. While the situation at hand is notably serious, the JAMA study should not be used to disqualify football from taking place this fall.

This is another example of the Big Ten rushing to judgment without having the requisite facts on the table. Murthy is a leading expert in the field, and he is not convinced that the JAMA study is conclusive or even entirely accurate and therefore cannot be used as a legitimate, authoritative review of COVID-19 and myocarditis.

What are your thoughts on the Big Ten's decision to postpone football? Do you think it was done in haste? Let us know!