Sports Pulse: College football offseason programs are set to come back on time but at what risk? USA TODAY
This new Penn State football life has begun with unfamiliar, cautious steps.
Wearing masks and social distancing around team facilities are just a couple of the awkward requirements in this week’s re-entrance to campus life — and the true beginning of preparing for the upcoming season.
At least one Nittany Lion seems determined to make this step-by-step return to football work amid the coronavirus pandemic, especially with so much riding on this fall. Cornerback Keaton Ellis sounded as if he spoke for his teammates when he met with the media this week on a video conference call.
“We’re ready as players to make some sacrifices because that’s what it’s going to take to move forward,” said Ellis, who also played for State College High.
“One of the biggest sacrifices is going to be outside of football. Making sure everybody’s being accountable for each other and staying inside the team and not going out and doing different things that could risk and jeopardize people (amid the coronavius).
“We’re all going to have to make some tough sacrifices, but as a team I think we’re prepared to do that and move forward.”
Penn State brought back 75 of its players this week. All were tested for COVID-19 and quarantined for a week before supervised workouts begin Monday. Those who cleared testing will be able to lift weights and run in small groups with workouts gradually increasing in intensity and interaction with coaches.
Training camp is still scheduled for August.
For now, college football expects to open on time by Labor Day weekend — with the Lions a consistent Top 10 preseason pick. Fan participation, though, seems more in doubt. It’s unclear how the Big Ten and leagues across the country will handle social distancing measures and attendance, particularly in venues such as Beaver Stadium that can hold more than 100,000.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s most recent protocols for sports in Pennsylvania calls for no more than 50 percent capacity at events for the foreseeable future.
That would figure to have a significant effect at Penn State, which is known for its raucous atmosphere and 30,000 student section, especially for late afternoon and night games.
“You always talk about the 12th player, right? The fans, they’re the best. They really can change a game or change a play just by their support, being vocal,” Ellis said. “So it’s definitely going to be a change for us. But as far as mindset planning, we’re all going to be just as hungry and we’re all going to find that extra juice you normally get from the fans, we’re still going to find a way to still get that.”
Certainly, the re-opening of sports is trending in a positive direction — even for big-time college football with its close, personal contact on the field, massive rosters and larger fan bases.
While the risk of the virus cannot be completely mitigated, the environment to play is not as threatening as it appeared a few months ago, according to sports medicine physician Dr. Rand McClain, chief medical officer of LCR Health in California.
As an example, transmitting the disease from surface to hands to face is less of a factor than previously thought, McClain said. He also noted that college athletes are among the most resistant to contracting serious versions of COVID-19.
“We’re staying optimistic. Each day, things sees to get better,” he said, referring to knowledge of how the disease infects and can be treated. “I work toward saying, ‘Play the games.’ You can always stop and shut everything down along the way” if things worsen.
McClain also echoed Ellis’ point about sacrifice: Players must make consistent, responsible decisions about social distancing for the coming months to protect themselves, their team and even their opponents.
“All of the testing goes to pot if (athletes) go to fraternity parties or to a bar the following week.
“Football, it’s going to be a test.”