Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 PRESEASON 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F ifteen years ago this month I was blessed with the chance to construct my first column as a rookie writer for Blue & Gold Illus- trated, and with it came the humbling opportunity to land my piece on page 4 as the first story subscribers see when they open their magazine. From the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to the Superdome in New Or- leans, to a national championship game in Miami, to good ol' Notre Dame Stadium, this "job" has taken me to amazing places and brought countless moments that will never be forgotten. Yet, through those 15 years and nearly 300 columns, the most unfor- gettable and most impactful event for our publication, Notre Dame football and my career came this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This football season — assuming it's not already cancelled by the time this story found your web browser or mailbox — will look nothing like the previous ones any of us have enjoyed or endured as a journalist or a fan. At the time of print, COVID-19 cases on the Notre Dame campus and within its football program were climbing steadily, in-person classes were moved to online instruction until at least Sept. 2, and Irish prac- tices were temporarily suspended because of the viral outbreaks. Among all the uncertainty, what does seem clear is that campus life, coronavirus and college football are a toxic mix. Which begs the question: With so many unknowns regarding the long- term effects of this disease, are the rewards worth the risks of blending an already patchwork football sea- son with a relentless pandemic that will likely claim this year 's national championship? C o n t r a d i c t i n g o p i n i o n s a n d muddy messaging make this ques- tion tough to answer. Relying on statistics that indicate the odds of a college-aged athlete dying from COVID-19 are extremely low, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, Alabama's Nick Saban, and many others, believe that aggressive testing procedures, strict prevention protocols and hardline safety mea- sures make the football and other athletic facilities the safest places on a college campus. Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the Duke Uni- versity infectious disease specialist who chairs the Atlantic Coast Con- ference medical advisory group, also reported that it's possible to "suf- ficiently mitigate the risk of bring- ing COVID-19 onto the football field and into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus." And other political and univer- sity leaders theorize that young and healthy student-athletes are "im- mune" to the impacts of COVID-19 and therefore well equipped to carry on, uncertainty be damned. And while this hypothesis may eventually prove factual, medical science insists that nobody yet un- derstands well enough the collateral health effects — cardiovascular dis- ease, lung impairment, etc. — that gathering together 100-plus football players and personnel from two different schools and states might bring. As far back as May, potential car- diac issues related to COVID-19 were discussed in medical circles and re- covering patients were urged to un- dergo extensive testing for under- lying heart inflammation. A paper recently published in JAMA Cardiol- ogy found that of 100 patients stud- ied, 78 still had cardiac abnormalities more than two months after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Ultimately, the "to play or not to play" debate comes down to money, big money — no breaking news there. Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez estimates that the cancella- tion of the Big Ten football season will cost his school more than $100 million, a financial one-two punch considering schools are already rub- bing nickels together to keep educa- tional operations afloat, students on campus and university employees on the job. Keeping all options open, the con- sideration of pushing the 2020 foot- ball season to the spring of 2021 is also being floated. Proponents of fall football in March believe that conditions sur- rounding COVID-19 will improve by then and a vaccine will be readily available. But the logistics of such a plan fall somewhere between untenable and unsavory. If the health and safety of the student-athletes are of primary concern, how does scheduling two football seasons within one calen- dar year connect with that mission statement? Going all-in and full-go for a 2020 football season, legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz recently pulled this World War II reference: "When they stormed Normandy, they knew there were going to be casualties, there were going to be risks." But for at least one sports writer — who also desperately wants a foot- ball season — does dying to defeat Hitler align with risking one's health and maybe life to defeat Duke or Wake Forest? ✦ Is The COVID-19 Risk Worth The Football Reward? UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Duke University infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the chair of the ACC medical advisory group, told Sports Business Daily that he believes football can be played this season and be done so safely. PHOTO COURTESY DUKE UNIVERSITY

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