Dr. Anthony Fauci not confident of football season without a ‘bubble’

Published: Jun. 18, 2020 at 2:17 PM CDT
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When Dr. Anthony Fauci talks about the coronavirus, Americans listen. Fauci has become the government’s face on the virus as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House task force on the virus.

There’s some potentially bad news for football fans, though, regarding a 2020 season in a Fauci interview posted on CNN this morning. “Unless players are essentially in a ‘bubble’ -- insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day -- it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year,” Fauci told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Of course, the NBA will keep its players in a “bubble” campus at Disney World in Orlando. The NHL is planning to split its 24 playoff teams into two bubble/hub cities, most likely Las Vegas (Eastern Conference; East as NHL doesn’t want Golden Knights to have a home advantage) and Toronto (Western Conference).

Major League Baseball still has yet to officially agree on a start to the season, much less release its COVID-19 plans (although hub cities apparently are off the table). Several NFL players reportedly have tested positive for the coronavirus, including a handful from the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans recently with the virus spiking in Texas.

The biggest name of those was Dallas star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Denver’s Von Miller and Kareem Jackson are known to have tested positive. There are going to be/have been many others. Some NFL coaches want the start of the season delayed. In theory, the NFL could put its players in a bubble – although that would be a massive undertaking with 53-man active rosters -- because the players are paid professionals and the league has money to burn to make it happen. However, on Wednesday NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said this on a media conference call: “We do not feel it’s practical or appropriate to construct a ‘bubble.’ Anyone who tests positive will be isolated until medically appropriate to return.”

The league plans to test players three times per week and test everyone who will be exposed to players and coaches -- officials, etc. -- just prior to gameday.

Meanwhile, there’s simply no way that the NCAA could place its football teams in a “bubble” – there are 130 teams in the FBS and many teams have more than 100 players on a roster (why two players often wear the same number).

Clearly, each university would have to do it on its own, but good luck enforcing that among college-age players. Already, several schools have reported multiple cases among players during voluntary workouts.

The University of Houston had to shut down its voluntary workouts after six players tested positive. It’s quite possible that if there is a season, it could be conference-only games; where would that leave major independents like Notre Dame and BYU?

Four games involving historically black colleges and universities have been already canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Division II schools have placed a 10-game limit on the season.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council approved a six-week practice plan for football that begins in July. Schools that open the season Aug. 29 (Hawaii-Arizona leads a six-game slate) will begin required workouts July 6, while those that open on Labor Day weekend will begin workouts July 13.

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