Even with Illinois in Phase 4 of its COVID-19 plan, college football in the state remains as much up in the air as a well-struck punt into swirling winds. So much is still unknown.
As July approaches, Division I athletes have been allowed to participate in voluntary activities for roughly a month. According to the NCAA Division I Council, schools were “expected to make decisions based on the health, safety and well-being of their student-athletes and in compliance with local, state and federal regulations.”
Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference in which Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois compete, serves on the council.
While Prairie State Pigskin emailed Viverito last week for an interview, no response was returned.
The Trump administration has made it clear that each state will decide its individual policies. The MVFC encompasses seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota) while the Ohio Valley Conference, which Eastern Illinois is a member, consists of five states (Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee).
Viverito told Todd Hefferman of The Southern Illinoisan in a mid-May story, “We will make a decision that makes the most sense for the most amount of people, and that’s going to be directed by states and municipalities, and where they are with COVID-19 and where we are with testing, and where we are with campuses open. It’s not going to be 100%, and I don’t think there’s any doubt if it’s less than 100% we could go.”
Thus, though some players are back on campus, what happens going forward is still a question mark.
Positive tests nationally
Anyone following college football has no doubt seen the number of positive COVID-19 tests among athletes.
Roughly one-third of Clemson’s roster has tested positive in the past month. Reports stated at least 30 of LSU’s players are currently in isolation after either testing positive or having contact with those who did test positive for the virus.
Closer to home, a recent si.com story stated that University of Illinois athletics officials have refused to release numbers or specific names of players that have returned to the Champaign-Urbana campus for voluntary workouts. U of I athletics officials are also refusing, citing medical privacy laws as the formal reason, to report any positive COVID-19 tests.
Illinois State is scheduled to open its season Sept. 4 against the U of I in Champaign.
Big Ten medical leaders have settled on a three-stage approach for easing into football, increasing in the frequency of testing with each stage: (1) return to campus, (2) return to practice and (3) return to competition.
Randy Reinhardt of The Pantagraph reported that approximately 60 ISU players are going through conditioning drills in small groups with members of ISU’s strength and conditioning staff. Reinhardt further noted that ISU coaches are not allowed to directly work with players until July 23. Coaches and players are still allowed to meet virtually.
Reinhardt’s story added, “Redbird players start each day with a COVID-19 screening. They are then given a colored bracelet to indicate they have been cleared for that day’s activity.”
Meanwhile, a recent si.com story stated that athletes rights advocates are concerned about the varying college reopening plans. Certainly money plays a role. On average, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (which determines if a person is currently infected) can cost $100-200 each. To perform a requisite amount of testing on each athlete, prices can soar to more than $400,000, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told SI last month. Other estimates go much higher.
A school’s insurance may cover the cost, but like many questions connected to the virus, that’s still unanswered.
“I kind of have all these different schedules in my mind, written down on paper, trying to plan, still nothing is concrete, I hope we’re soon, so maybe you have an idea, but we have different plans if we’re early July, mid July for our approach and how soon we can go,” Elliott told Scott Holland of the McDonough County Voice last week. “We will as a staff communicate, but until we get the green light, you don’t really know what you’re going to put in place, but it is important to know what and when you put things in place, we do have plans ready to go, so we’ll see what happens.”
No doubt, the same is true for EIU, SIU and ISU.