Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine voiced his concern about safely conducting the rest of the fall football season at a Senate hearing on college athletes and compensation on Tuesday.
The focus of the hearing was on how athletes should be compensated for their name, image and likeness, but many members of the Senate Education Committee asked questions about the impact made on the 2020 football season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there was also significant discussion concerning the split among Division I college football programs, where some conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big 12 have opted to play this fall, while others, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, have up to this point opted to wait until spring, hoping the pandemic will be under control by then.
It also became known during the session that rumors of the Big Ten opting to change its stance and start playing football in October were premature.
University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank said a vote to return to a fall football plan remains on hold until there are answers to questions about COVID-19 testing and tracing, along with possible related long-term heart issues.
She would not predict which way a vote to return to play would go.
“Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority based decisions, but I’ll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes,” Blank said.
Kaine focused his allotted speaking time on the recent coronavirus outbreaks in the ACC, including the one at Virginia Tech that forced the program to postpone its Sept. 19 game with Virginia, and pause all football activities.
Tech’s scheduled game against N.C. State on Sept. 12 was postponed last month due to an outbreak on the N.C. State campus.
“Why are we working so hard to continue fall football if the results at least in the ACC are such that there’s grave questions about the ability to do it safely are so obvious?” Kaine asked a panel of witnesses that included Blank, Utah State University athletic director John Hartwell, Ohio State University track and field and cross country director Karen Dennis, and National College Players Association executive director Ramogi Huma.
Blank said she and other Big Ten officials shared Kaine’s concerns, which is why the league voted to postpone all fall sports.
“We were uncertain that we could do the level of testing and contact tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe,” Blank said. “There was growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis, and that evidence was uncertain, and it wasn’t certain what it meant and wanted to know more.”
The ACC is moving forward based on advice from the league’s 15-person medical advisory group that was formed over the summer. The conference announced detailed COVID-19 safety protocols on July 29, and have updated those to increase the frequency of testing and create cardiac evaluation standards for student-athletes who test positive.
Virginia Tech also put in strict coronavirus-related guidelines for athletic staff and facilities when student-athletes returned to campus for voluntary workouts in early June.
The four-page document includes the process for facility access, cleaning procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations, social distancing requirements and medical screening policies.
Tech athletic director Whit Babcock was asked on Saturday if he sensed any doubt among his colleagues about the decision to move forward given some of the challenges teams have faced.
“I don’t get the sense of that from the ACC, the SEC or the Big 12 that here are the things that we need to do to navigate it and some very talented medical people and no, I don’t doubt the decision,” Babcock said. “Time will tell, but I don’t doubt the decision and still think it’s the right thing.”
Huma also weighed in on the issue at the hearing and questioned the major conference’s commitment to student-athletes. Huma said “big money” is pushing the conferences to play this season, and safety concerns are secondary.
“No one is going to fundamentally change that without some real enforcement that’s uniform nationally,” Huma said. “There’s nothing anywhere close to that … conferences really aren’t enforcement entities. When was the last time you have seen a conference enforce anything?”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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