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CECIL HURT: There is optimism after college football’s Week One, but not certainty

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Like many coaches during the pandemic, Alabama's Nick Saban took to Twitter to promote the use of masks and distancing as preventive tools. Saban even filmed a public service announcement in which he scolded Alabama's mascot for not using a mask.

There was big-school college football last Saturday, even if the Big 12 would like to deny it this morning. 

The National Football League was in action Sunday. Some people chose not to watch, which is their own personal decision. If you did watch, you saw Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs contribute to a Las Vegas Raiders win. You saw O.J. Howard catch a touchdown pass from Tom Brady, quite the dream fulfillment for a young man from Autauga County, Alabama. You saw games without fans, games with some fans and games with booing fans (at least in the pregame in Kansas City). You saw ESPN thank Notre Dame for “saving” college football, which probably made the other 75 teams attempting to have a season wonder, “What about us?” You didn’t actually get to see the Big Ten, but you got to hear people talk about the fact that the Big Ten was talking, something it seems to do continually, although you can’t quite be sure whether something they say on Monday is going to still be operative on Friday.

What you haven’t seen, not in the SEC, is any dancing. No victory dances, at least. 

The college football season like no other is still an experiment. The beakers in the lab are still bubbling, every day. Optimism is great, and so far there are many reasons to be optimistic. That doesn’t mean that every variable has been solved and there might not be explosions along the way. 

There were games that were postponed Saturday. There were teams like Oklahoma that played through some significant coronavirus-caused absences on their roster. That didn’t matter much against Missouri State, as long as one of those absences wasn’t quarterback Spencer Rattler. But what if your team had been playing a conference opponent and the same thing happened? No, the Big 12 didn’t seem packed with juggernauts, but surely even an Oklahoma (or an Alabama) would struggle.

Fans try to cool themselves, the Million Dollar Band performs and the cheerleaders do their thing and Big Al redefines the role of drum major inside a steamy hot Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, Sep. 7, 2019. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Since we are now in the 12-day window before the scheduled first SEC game, here is the protocol that could cause players to be withheld long enough to miss the opener. 

The NCAA says symptomatic positives must isolate for at least 10 days from onset of symptoms, and at least 72 hours should pass since recovery. (The SEC's protocol reduces the recovery window to at least 24 hours.) 

The SEC and NCAA protocols both note that individuals with “high-risk exposure” also should be quarantined for 14 days. Both defined "high-risk" as any situation with more than 15 minutes of close contact (less than 6 feet apart) with an infectious individual. These protocols are subject to third-party monitoring. If anyone fits either criteria, they don’t make the trip to Missouri. In Columbia, Missouri has already announced four absences and there could be more. The efforts at screening, testing and isolating players has reportedly been good across SEC campuses, although transparency would help.

But this is not the NFL, where the players can be isolated and monitored 24/7. Many of these schools are in communities with high rates of coronavirus, where campus-wide efforts were slow to take hold and community reaction has been lukewarm to restrictions (and not even the NFL, except in a couple of locations, is planning to have 20,000 fans come to town for games, leaving eerie sites like an empty Superdome).

i understand all the arguments about mortality and age-group vulnerability, hospitalizations and myocarditis. You can disagree with the criteria, but they aren’t going to change. So hope: but don’t dance. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports,com or via Twitter @cecilhurt