NCAA doc sees narrow path to play as Fields starts petition

CHARLIE NYE/USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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The NCAA’s chief medical officer says there is a narrow path to playing college sports during the coronavirus pandemic and if testing nationwide does not improve, it cannot be done.

Meanwhile, one of college football’s biggest stars sent out a petition Sunday, calling on the Big Ten to play football this fall.

Dr. Brian Hainline told CNN late Saturday that “everything would have to line up perfectly” for college sports to be played this fall. Much of the fall college sports season has been canceled, with conferences hoping to make up competitions, including football, in the spring.

But not everyone has accepted those decisions.

On Sunday morning, Big Ten football players continued to push the conference to overturn its cancellation of the fall season. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and other players posted on Twitter an online petition requesting the Big Ten reinstate the schedule the conference released six days before it pulled the plug.

Player parent groups from Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska have sent letters to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren asking for the conference to reverse course and seeking more transparency into the decision.

The letters also call for players to be allowed to sign liability waivers with their schools in order have a season. It was just two weeks ago Pac-12 players with the We Are United movement called for its conference to ban such waivers. Big Ten United, another group of players pushing for more oversight and uniformity in COVID-19 protocols, also demanded liability waivers be banned.

The NCAA did just that a few days later, saying member schools could not require athletes to sign a liability waiver related to COVID-19 to participate.

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, one of the leaders of College Athletes United, a group that helped organize Big Ten United, said he wasn’t familiar enough with the parents’ letters to comment on them.

“I am focused on figuring out a way with my fellow players to work with the conference and the NCAA to find a way to return to play that is as safe as possible and ensure the well-being of the players in as timely a manner as possible,” Reynolds said in a text to AP.

The NCAA has no jurisdiction over major college football, so the conferences have been left to make their own calls. At the highest level of college football, four conferences – including the Big Ten and Pac-12 – have postponed fall sports and are hoping to make them up in some fashion in the spring.

Six leagues, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12, are moving forward with plans to play in the fall.

Hainline told CNN that how colleges and universities handled the reopening of campuses to students will be crucial in determining when fall sports can be played. Athletes have been on campus for nearly two months in some cases preparing for their seasons and being regularly tested for COVID-19.

Testing of athletes will need to increase when competition begins. Recent breakthroughs in saliva testing could provide faster results and more access to testing for everyone, but just how much remains to be seen. The availability and turnaround times of COVID-19 tests is still a problem in parts of the country.

“Right now, if testing stays at it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports,” Hainline told CNN.

He added: “We’re not in a place today where we could safely play sports.”