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Podcast: Why College Football Has No Consensus From Medical Experts

It was a memorable week in football as two Power 5 conferences punted on a fall season, but the others are confident their teams are safe. Listen to the MMQB podcast for a full discussion about why there are such varying medical opinions on how to approach (or delay) the season.

As we get closer to the start of football season, uncertainty seems to be growing across the country, and that was fairly evident in college football this past week. 

After a few days of chaos, two dominoes fell in the Power 5 as the Big Ten and the Pac-12 decided to postpone their fall seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, with both hoping to play in the spring instead. While those conferences spent a few days meeting to come to their decisions, the SEC and the ACC said they were confident in their current protocols and would continue to move toward the season as scheduled. The Big 12, looked at as the "linchpin," was on the fence, but ultimately decided to continue on and released its fall schedule—keeping college football alive, for now

As each conference made its decision, it started to become clear that they were coming to different conclusions on what is and isn't safe during the current pandemic.


We’ll discuss that in detail on this week’s episode of the Week In Review podcast with Albert Breer and Sports Illustrated's college football reporters, Ross Dellenger and Pat Forde. Below is an excerpt from our episode on how there is no consensus among medical experts. Subscribe to the MMQB’s suite of podcasts to have them all delivered right to your phone each week.

Albert Breer: And I'm not even talking about college football or the NFL, I had no idea before all of this, and my wife's a nurse. I had no idea, doctors disagree this much about things.... I had no idea. I mean, seriously, it's like I, you know, the old saying, you know, that 'numbers are like hostages, you can make them say whatever you want.' I feel like it's the same with doctors now. Right? Like it's like if you need an expert to tell you something, you know, tell you what you want to hear, you can find them, they're out there. And it's almost like maybe in a certain way that was the case with these two. You're just looking for confirmation of what you already think. Like you think this is too dangerous to play? All right, I'm going to go find a doctor who'll tell me that... "I really want to play." I can find a doctor who'll tell me that too. 

Ross Dellenger: Oh, yeah, that's huge and today, you should see some of the quotes I got from his doctors because I have tried to get a doctor in each different region of the nation. So I got one in Washington, one in California, one in Louisiana and one in Alabama, and then one up in the Midwest, in Ohio, Maryland. So I've got them in. And they do they all kind of say something different. I think what the big thing is, and this has not been reported on a ton, but the Pac-12 advisory board had 17 extra people on it, then all the other ones. And they were all independent people. They weren't tied to a school, they were like independent epidemiologists. So they didn't have school biased or any kind of like team bias. And so they were kind of independent. That is a big reason I think why their medical document looks like it does and is as stringent as it is, is because they had to. So sometimes it's the medical board makeup. Which is kind of interesting. 

AB: That's super interesting, that sounds to me like why players don't trust team doctors. Like the NFL, like they don't trust team doctors because this team doctor—I know where his paychecks coming from. Right? Like, his paycheck is coming from over here and he in essence works for that coach. And that coach wants me out in the field no matter what, you know. So it sounds almost like that, Ross. 

RD: Yeah, it is. And also there's another thing to this. And of course, it's the regionalization in the political politicalization of every issue in America it seems like this is also one of them. And I saw a map that was circulating today of all the states with a team that has canceled and states with the teams that haven't canceled. And I mean, it looks like the Electoral College map. It's just it looks like a presidential election, you know, so it's regionalized. And think about it, the doctors that are on these medical advisory boards are going to be from the region, and they're going to think about college football like people from the region, which in the southeast, you know, is like, 'RAHH' you know, must have-must have, push through. In the West Coast, isn't so much. 

AB: Eh, take it or leave it on the Wes Coast. Yeah, and you know what, even on another level, Pat, it's like, this is what's happening with the government, right? And I think you and I talked about this, too. This is I mean it's like it gets kicked down to the federal level, to the state level, and then you get the municipalities all doing some different things and they're fighting over it and they kick it back up to the state level. And the states looking at it like what do we do? And those are the conferences. So it's almost like what's happened with COVID in our country. 

PF: Oh, I think the parallels are striking and eerie and somewhat disturbing. I mean, it's played out. Yes. Mark Emmert and the NCAA is the executive branch, I guess, or the national body. And they haven't done anything. And nobody has gotten anything out of them in terms of real leadership. And so then it gets taken down to the municipalities or whatever the states, and that's the conferences. And then even from there, within that, as you said, they have the local, the actual schools. They're disagreeing, some with each other. You know, Nebraska really wanted to play. Michigan is like no we're not going to play—at least at the presidential level. You know, it's this is politically and in terms of structure, this is what's going on in college football is what's going on in the pandemic. 

AB: It's struck me, too, guys, because, I talked to a few college coaches just like, hey, what can the NFL learn from you? Because the colleges had been sort of a step ahead. And I know, like a lot of the NFL coaches have for example, I know like Joe Judge leaned on Kirby Smart, you know, because they're really close and consulted with Nick Saban and Bill O'Brien consulted with Ryan Dane. So you had all of this. And so I called some of the college coaches and asked them about it. And I was really impressed with what like Lincoln Riley had set up in Oklahoma. And and what, you know, Jeff Hatherly, he's down the road from me here at Boston College, what he'd done. And so, you write about it, then you think about it like, 'Wait a minute, why is a football coach in charge of this?' And there's nothing against those guys. I think a lot of those guys have done a great job. But it's not like the NFL teams. It's not like the Eagles are putting Doug Peterson in charge of COVID control. 

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