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Outlook: COVID-19 vs ACC Football 2020

Will the Coronavirus pandemic prevent ACC football from happening this Fall, or will the league find a way?

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NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Eastern Michigan
Will the Pitt Panthers play football this Fall?
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the question on the minds of ACC football coaches, players and fans alike: will the 2020 season happen this fall, and if so, how will it be affected by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? Many articles have already been written on the subject, in part because we just don’t know the answer yet. However, now that players have for the most part reported to their respective campuses, we are beginning to get a picture of how the 2020 college football season in general - and the ACC in particular - may shape up.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 01 ACC Championship Game - Pitt v Clemson
Clemson leads all FBS teams in positive test results.
Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Player Test Results.

USA Today has been keeping an updated list of college athletic programs who have reported cases of positive COVID-19 test results. The USA Today list will not include any players for the Pitt Panthers because, as reported here on Cardiac Hill, the Pitt football team will not announce COVID-19 results to the public.

So far, only three ACC football teams - the Clemson Tigers, the Florida State Seminoles, and the Louisville Cardinals - along with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, have reported any cases. Whether that’s because they haven’t tested anyone, haven’t had any positive test results, or have decided not to publish the results no doubt varies from school to school. For Florida State, Louisville, and Notre Dame, each of those football teams has reported just one positive test result so far. But in the case of Clemson, there have been 37 players to test positive for the virus.

The Clemson Tigers are not the only power five football team to report double digit cases, either. The Texas Longhorns reported 15 positive tests, and the defending national champion Louisiana State Tigers placed “at least 30” football players under quarantine “because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or had contact recently with someone who had.” However, Clemson has the highest number of infected football players in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) - so far.

NCAA Football: Inaugural Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic-Alabama A&M vs Morehouse College
Morehouse College cancelled its entire 2020 football season.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Football Cancellations

Some schools have already cancelled football games, neutral site trips, even entire football seasons. Examples of the latter included two Division-III programs, Bowdoin College in Maine and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. Those two were recently joined by Division-II Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. At this point no Division-I teams have gone as far as cancelling their football seasons, although the game between Notre Dame and Navy which was originally scheduled to be played in Ireland, in Week Zero, will now be played in Annapolis, Maryland, in Week One.

Other schools have found it necessary to find new opponents for cancelled games. This was the case with the Western Michigan Broncos, who replaced their game against the Colgate Raiders with one versus the Stony Brook Seawolves after new Patriot League rules forced Colgate to cancel their September 4th trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Meanwhile, several college football conferences are considering the possibility of either eliminating some or all of their teams’ non-conference games, or even rescheduling the entire season to some time in the Spring of 2021.

The Advisory Group

On May 18th, 2020, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced the formation of a COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group. Each ACC school has a representative on this advisory group; for Pitt, the school is represented by Dr. Aaron Mares, Team Physician.

Most of what is discussed by this group will never be made public, but David Teel of the Richmond Times Dispatch recently reported that “The ACC advisory group is examining whether league teams should play non-conference opponents that don’t meet the ACC’s protocol.” Such a recommendation, if implemented, could affect the Pittsburgh Panthers home game against the Richmond Spiders.

At first this sounds like a reasonable recommendation. However, after thinking about it for awhile it occurs to me that this may be little more than an attempt to push the blame onto other conferences, with little impact on the actual spread of the virus among ACC student athletes. Call me cynical if you wish.

The Next Two Months

The NCAA has already made special provision for this Summer to allow college football teams six weeks to prepare for the start of the 2020 season. That means teams like Pitt which kickoff the season on September 5th will be permitted to begin summer access activities on July 13th, meetings and walk-throughs on July 24th, and preseason practice on August 7th. The clock is ticking - will the ACC and its member schools take the needed steps before time runs out?

For more on what can be done to safeguard the football season, check out “Rx: Football During a Pandemic?” on ACCFootballRx.