NCAA testing plan for college football may not be enough, some say

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If there is a college football season, Wednesdays could be busy for medical staffs around the country.

The NCAA’s latest guidance for playing college sports during the coronavirus pandemic recommends testing players once a week within 72 hours of competition. For typical Saturday football games, that means Wednesday would be the soonest athletes would be tested.

Is that enough for a team of about 100 athletes playing a contact sport to get through a season without major disruptions? Especially considering simply being exposed to someone who tests positive can land a player in quarantine for two weeks?

“Seventy-two hours leaves open a big window for somebody to test negative on Wednesday, become infectious on Thursday or Friday or Saturday morning and then go onto the field and spread it around,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University. “Not only (to) their team but their opponents, who then travel back where they came from.”

The NCAA released updated recommendations on Thursday but also warned if national trends in the pandemic don’t change there will be no football and other fall sports. Already, more than 300 Division I football games have been canceled or postponed.

There was more bad news Friday as the Colonial Athletic Conference became the fourth Championship Subdivision league to call off its fall football season, but with a twist. The CAA is allowing its members to compete in football on their own. Powerhouse James Madison and Elon are among those that plan to try.

The Atlantic 10 and America East, neither of which sponsors football, announced they are postponing fall sports, hoping to make them up in the second semester. Indiana became the latest major-college football program to suspend workouts after six participants tested positive.

All of this has happened while the U.S. sees a surge in reported COVID-19 cases.

The Nebraska athletic department, as is the case with many schools affiliated with hospitals, has been working with its academic health center to test athletes since they arrived on campus for voluntary workouts at team facilities in June. The hospital also serve the community.

“While it is a resource that’s being leveraged by athletics, there are also competing interests for those resources that have to be taken into account,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, who heads the Big Ten’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and is executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The NCAA’s recommendations say any individual with a high-risk exposure to someone is required to quarantine for 14 days, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That includes an individual who was within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes while not wearing a mask. The NCAA recommends teams segment their players into “functional units” of five to 10 players. But it takes 22 on the field to play football and public health guidance that works well for grocery stores doesn’t always translate perfectly to sports.

The surge in COVID-19 cases in many areas of the country where big-time college football is played increases the need for more frequent testing and quick delivery of results, Binney said.

“I would be a lot more comfortable with this plan for the Ivy League than the Big 12,” Binney said. “This feels like a plan that might work decently in areas without a lot of community cases. In areas with more cases and more community spread I think there is a very real likelihood of somebody being missed by this testing protocol and getting on the field.

“And with a sport like football, pretty much all of your investment has to be up front in stopping an infection from getting onto the field,” he said.

The Power Fives conference are finalizing their own guidelines that are similar to the NCAA’s. In that document, obtained by The Associated Press, they add to high-risk exposures “anyone participating in face-to-face or contact drills against each other or using equipment that has not been adequately cleaned.”

Dr. Greg Stewart, the Tulane team physician, said determining what constitutes a high-risk exposure during a football game will often be a judgment call for medical staffs.

Does the cornerback who covered a receiver, who later tested positive, need to be quarantined? How about the running back who was tackled six or seven times by an infected linebacker? Or the center who spent most of his time blocking a nose guard who turns up positive the next week?

“Sports medicine is incredibly gray with some of this stuff,” Stewart said.

Miami fires offensive coordinator Josh Gattis after 1 season

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Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami fired offensive coordinator Josh Gattis on Friday, ending the former Broyles Award winner’s time with the Hurricanes after only one season.

The school announced the move in a one-sentence press release, with no other detail: “Josh Gattis has been relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator, Miami head football coach Mario Cristobal announced Friday,” read the release, sent from a university spokesman.

The Hurricanes went 5-7 in Gattis’ lone season. He was brought in by Miami only a few weeks after winning the 2021 Broyles Award – given to the nation’s top assistant coach – while serving as Michigan’s offensive coordinator and helping the Wolverines reach the College Football Playoff.

But Miami’s offense, for a number of reasons, failed to meet expectations in 2022. Part of that was injuries; starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke battled a shoulder injury, and the Hurricanes turned to Jake Garcia – who has since transferred – and Jacurri Brown for much of the season.

Miami scored 100 points in its first two games last fall, overpowering Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss. The Hurricanes averaged only 18.3 points the rest of the way, and finished the year 5-0 in games where the defense allowed no more than 14 points – but 0-7 when opponents scored more than 14.

Miami was 86th nationally in total offense last season, averaging 367.1 yards per game, and 97th in scoring offense.

Gattis played at Wake Forest and worked at North Carolina, Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Alabama and Michigan before coming to Miami.

Audit: LSU discovered $1M overpayment to Kelly in 2022

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU accidentally overpaid Tigers football coach Brian Kelly by $1 million during the first year of a 10-year, $100 million contract, but discovered the error and has moved to correct it, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office said Wednesday.

Kelly was overpaid $1,001,368 in supplemental payments in 2022 because duplicate payments made both to Kelly’s LLC and to the coach directly.

The double payments began in May and continued until LSU officials detected the errors in November.

“LSU management and the head football coach have enacted an adjusted payment schedule so the amount of overpayment will be recouped by the conclusion of fiscal year 2023,” the Legislative Auditor’s report stated.

Kelly, who previously coached at Notre Dame for 12 seasons, was hired by LSU after the 2021 season, when the Tigers went 6-7 for its first losing season since 1999.

LSU exceeded expectations in Kelly’s first season in Baton Rouge, winning the SEC West Division and finishing 10-4 after a 63-7 victory over Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.