Amid debate about the feasibility of playing fall college football, nearly half of the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences declined to share information about how many positive tests their programs have had to date.
Citing federal student privacy laws, university protocols and other confidentiality concerns, 30 of the 65 Power 5 conference schools declined to provide test outcomes according to ESPN.
Twenty-one schools that declined to provide data are in the conferences that plan to play college sports this fall: the ACC, Big 12 and SEC.
Among the questions ESPN asked school administrators were how many tests have been administered since the school started testing athletes; how many athletes have tested positive; what protocols the department has in place once an athlete tests positive; how many athletes have heart-related issues due to the coronavirus; and whether the school shares data with government health officials.
Coaches and athletic directors have been saying that athletes are safe — or even safer — within their athletic programs and team environment. Even so, some of those same programs declined to share testing data with ESPN.
“We’ve just followed our university protocols when we do have positive tests, whether they be staff, student-athletes or what have you,” said Greg McGarity, athletics director at Georgia, one of the schools that declined to answer any of the nine survey questions. “They’re reported through the university channels, and everything is done by the book.”
Each of the Power 5 conferences leaves it up to its member institutions to decide whether to release testing data, as does the NCAA.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Nebraska coach Scott Frost have said their players are, or feel, less at risk of contracting the coronavirus playing football than they would be if the season isn’t played. Sean Magee, Michigan’s associate athletic director for football, said Saturday that the football team had zero positive tests after administering 822 tests in August.
Michigan and Clemson were among the 10 schools that answered all survey questions pertaining to testing volume, the number of positive results, hospitalizations and whether any athletes had tested positive for post COVID-19 heart conditions. Alabama provided ESPN with testing data for athletics but did not separate athletes from coaches. Nebraska and Ohio State declined to provide testing data to ESPN, citing privacy concerns.
Jerry Emig, a spokesman for Ohio State athletics, said the school plans to share campus-wide testing information to the public “in a way that protects individuals’ medical and educational privacy.” A spokesman for Nebraska athletics said the school shares results with local and state health officials, but not publicly.
Among the 10 schools that completely answered all of ESPN’s questions, four still plan to play fall sports — Clemson, Iowa State, Missouri and Oklahoma. The six other schools that fully responded are in the Big Ten (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin) and the Pac-12 (Oregon State and Stanford), which postponed fall sports.
“We just felt as an athletic department that we wanted to be transparent,” said athletics director Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin, which provided answers to each question. “We want our student-athletes and staff to know that we’re thorough, and we’re going to do a thorough job and that we take their health and well-being seriously. I want their parents to feel comfortable that we’re doing everything we possibly can.”
Three universities — Baylor, Notre Dame and Rutgers — declined to answer survey questions but directed ESPN to online statements about the number of COVID-19 cases among their athletes. But Notre Dame’s statement only included numbers for its football team. Rutgers directed ESPN to an Aug. 14 report in which football coach Greg Schiano said 30 of his players tested positive, but the school declined to give numbers of cases for all athletes.
Utah, which isn’t playing fall sports this year, was the only Pac-12 school that declined to answer all of ESPN’s questions. A spokesman for Utah directed ESPN to Utes athletics director Mark Harlan’s comments on why his department would not release the numbers of positive tests.
“That’s me. I’ll own that decision,” Harlan said in a July 31 news conference. “What I feel is most important in this matter is that we follow all the university and county and state guidelines as it relates to our testing. So any results, positive, negative, we send on to the proper authorities, and I believe that’s our obligation. I just don’t believe our student-athletes should be singled out in the population for positives and negatives, and we’ve rolled in that direction.”
Thirteen schools answered ESPN’s question about the number of positive COVID cases but declined to answer questions about heart-related issues and/or hospitalizations.
Of the 26 schools that answered the question about heart-related conditions for student-athletes, only one school — Oregon State — reported having an athlete who developed heart-related issues after contracting COVID-19, but the school stated it was not myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Myocarditis has been a growing concern among cardiologists and other medical providers and has fueled unease among some Power 5 administrators about the viability of fall sports.
ESPN reported last month that at least five Big Ten athletes had developed myocarditis, and the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, said during an Aug. 13 conference call that he knew of at least a dozen athletes at other schools that had been found to have the condition.