Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY
Published 4:42 p.m. ET June 4, 2020 | Updated 4:43 p.m. ET June 4, 2020
Sports Pulse: College football offseason programs are set to come back on time but at what risk?
Purdue University president Mitch Daniels told a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday that if one of the athletic teams at his school experiences an outbreak of COVID-19, that team would need to stop all activity, at least temporarily.
Daniels made the comments in response to specific questioning during a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that was titled: “COVID-19: Going Back to College Safely” and held through video conferencing.
Daniels addressed the issue under questioning from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been a critic of the NCAA on a range of athlete-welfare issues.
Murphy asked: “What happens if you have an outbreak over the course of summer training or in the early fall on the football team or on your women’s soccer team? What’s your protocol? Do you shut that team down? Do they stop playing the season? Do you just segment off the players who have tested positive? This is a potential for a super-spreading environment if you’re not careful.”
Murphy did not say what would constitute an “outbreak,” and Daniels did not offer a definition in his response, which was:
“I completely agree with you. I think you would shut it down. And I think that somewhere out there, someone may very well face this situation. … We love sports, too. But first things first.
“And that starts with the safety of people — players, coaches. Don’t forget that the people who may be at most risk of a spread here are the older folks, coaches and others. So I hope we get back. But if it takes longer or if it is subject to interruption, then so be it,” Daniels said.
Sports Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterSupport Us
In response to a request from USA TODAY Sports for more specifics from Daniels about what would constitute an outbreak on a team, school spokesman Tim Doty provided a statement that read: “Like other universities, we do not yet have firm answers about the return of college athletics and the scenarios that may impede competition. What we do know is that we will prioritize safety and will follow the guidance of the Big Ten, NCAA and our medical advisory team to do our part to protect student-athletes, coaches, employees and fans.”
Daniels also told the Senate panel that Purdue currently plans to play home football games with crowds limited to no more than one-fourth of Ross-Ade Stadium’s usual seating capacity of just over 57,000, saying, “This has been mapped out just as we have mapped out classrooms and dorm rooms to measure distance and then exceed the requirements.” In addition, Daniels questioned whether fans will be able to attend games played indoors.
“Now we know that outdoors is very different — that it’s very hard to spread this outdoors,” he said. “But we’re still going to take an abundance-of-caution approach. I cannot tell you about indoor sports right now. I don’t think I see a way that we can proceed on anything like the basis that we’ve all been familiar with.”
This comes as some major-college sports programs this week resumed voluntary on-campus workouts that had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Initial testing of athletes and staff at Mississippi, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Marshall have produced a small number of positive tests, those schools have announced. The schools have said those who tested positive have been quarantined and that contact tracing has been initiated.