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U.S. Senator Tim Kaine sees ‘obvious’ safety concerns for fall football after ACC’s recent COVID outbreaks

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine sees ‘obvious’ safety concerns for fall football after ACC’s recent COVID outbreaks

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Tim Kaine

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget on Capitol Hill Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Virginia Senator 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 COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 season.

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 game against Virginia on Sept. 19 and put all football activities on hold.

Tech also had a game scheduled against NC State on Sept. 12 postponed two weeks due to an outbreak at NC State.

“Why are we working so hard to continue fall football if the results at least in the ACC are such that there're grave questions about the ability to do it safely are so obvious?” Kaine asked a panel of witnesses that included University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Rebecca 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 continues to move forward based on medical advice from the league’s 15-person medical advisory group that was formed over the summer. The league 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.”

National College Players Association executive director Ramogi 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 fundamental 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?”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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