ACC medical expert says fall college football season can be played safely

ByAndrea Adelson ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The chair of the ACC medical advisory group believes a fall season can be played safely, which is one of the biggest reasons the league remains on course to start the season in September.

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist, told Sports Business Daily that doctors have learned enough over the past six months to manage the risk.

"We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe," Wolfe told The Daily. "Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus."

Last week, the ACC set an 11-game league schedule to begin the weekend of Sept. 12. Ten of those games are in-conference, which this football season includes Notre Dame, meaning all schools will follow the same testing protocols. All nonconference opponents are required to adhere to the same testing protocols as well.

But Wolfe has also told commissioner John Swofford and league athletic directors that there is no way to cut the risk to zero and that they have to be comfortable with some level of risk tolerance.

"You can't tell me that running onto a football field is supposed to be a zero-risk environment," Wolfe continued. "Look at all of the regular sporting injuries that we accept as a certain level of risk as part and parcel of football. Now the reality is that we have to accept a little bit of COVID risk to be a part of that."

One specific area of concern for the NCAA is myocarditis, a condition that causes inflammation of the heart muscle that could be linked with the coronavirus.

The condition is usually caused by a viral infection, including those that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza or mononucleosis. Left undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause heart damage and sudden cardiac arrest, which can be fatal. It is a rare condition, but the COVID-19 virus has been linked with myocarditis with a higher frequency than other viruses, based on limited studies and anecdotal evidence since the start of the pandemic.

"There was one new issue that came out, and that was from a physician apparently that represents the NCAA about myocarditis and the potential impact that would have as a result of COVID," Florida State president John Thrasher said Tuesday. "That seemed to get a lot of attention nationally, and it caused a lot of the other conferences to say, 'Let's take a step back. Let's review where we are.' ...

"We did agree we needed to look at the medical aspects again just one more time to make sure our protocols, the other teams' protocols are in place. We've been doing that, and we'll probably have another meeting this week, the presidents of the ACC."

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