BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 07/15/2020

Thiel: Coronavirus is about to own college ball

Wishing and hoping are no matches for the virus. College football players don’t have a union to protect them. The schools have little choice but to call off 2020.

From 71,963 in 2013 at Husky Stadium to zero in 2020. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Jen Cohen is about as earnest, enthusiastic and successful an athletics director as there is in the ruthless world of big-time college sports. As a Tacoma kid, she grew up enthralled by University of Washington sports. Since her 2016 appointment to succeed Scott Woodward as athletics director, she’s been in her dream job.

So as you can imagine, the last seven months for her have been an unyielding nightmare.

The Huskies’ highly successful football coach, Chris Petersen, quit without warning. The Huskies’ two-time Pac-12 men’s basketball coach of the year, Mike Hopkins, finished last in the Pac-12 Conference and lost his two best players to the NBA draft. A global public-health crisis forced a national shutdown of spring sports and a 15 percent cut in the 2020-2o21 department budget, including trimming her own salary.

Now comes the hard part.

No football in the fall.

That’s not certain yet. Yet asked directly by host Dick Fain in an interview Monday on 950 KJR, the new radio home for UW sports, whether a season would be held in 2020, Cohen responded, “I don’t know,” followed by a rushed description of how everyone has worked so hard, and UW coronavirus positive tests were few, yadda, yadda.

It was clear she wanted to divert talk of a financial calamity for college sports in Montlake and nationwide.

But the yay-or-nay decision looms at the end of the month, according to Larry Scott. He’s the commissioner of conference that includes six schools in two states, Arizona and California, blasted hardest by monumental federal government failure to act in the public interest during a disaster. Scott said schools can’t wait any longer to make the call, because camps would have to start in August.

What neither Cohen nor Scott wants to say explicitly is the cruelly obvious truth to outsiders: If the sport plays on a campus of young, often reckless students, somebody likely will die, even with no fans in the stands.

A June 30 by story by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports quoted University of Illinois computer science professor Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, whose research on risk-based security helped design TSA PreCheck at airports, as saying he expects a 30% to 50% infection rate among the approximately 13,000 players who would compete in FBS this season. Based on his research, he also projects three to seven deaths among those players due to covid-19.

“A few of them could end up in the hospital, and you’ll have a small number who could die,” Jacobson said. “I don’t want to sugar-coat it for you. I just want to give you the facts.

“I guarantee someone is going to die. The virus does not discriminate.”

His projections from CDC data estimates one death per 1,000 people who have symptoms in the college age group (18-22). Taking into account that range and medical care provided for football players, the death rate would be lower than the general population, Jacobson said.

He stressed those numbers could change. Based on available statistics, less than 1% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Approximately 5% of the 2.6 million cases in the U.S. have resulted in death.

Mathematically, the risk is small. But chances go up if the infection is passed on to older coaches and staffers. Even one covid-19 death from a non-essential amusement supervised by mostly public education would be enough to put the lie to the conference claims of safety-first.

This is not pro ball, where the entertainers have unions to help protect their health and rights. The welfare of collegians is up to people whose livelihoods may depend on staging games, at least for TV consumption.

Those in a lower tier of college ball who are not attached to the teat of TV have stepped up to endorse student welfare, and thus complicate life for the more aggressive members of Power 5 conferences. The Patriot League has joined the Ivy League in suspending all fall sports.

“We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations,” the Ivy League presidents said in a statement. “There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision.”

Now that two leagues have canceled fall seasons, it raises a liability question for the conferences who have not. If they are sued by the families of the deceased or incapacitated, claiming it was not reasonable to play sports in a pandemic, the defense that games were “safe” based on the best available medical knowledge would fail when the Ivies and Patriots determined otherwise.

That may seem a cold way to look at it, but every major university has a team of lawyers whose job is to spell out consequences to decision-makers. It would be shocking to learn that Cohen and her Pac-12 peers weren’t alerted to the possible legal outcomes if they decided to press on, even with a season shrunken to conference-only.

If that secondary consequence to playing in a pandemic wasn’t sufficiently alarming, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, spoke grimly Tuesday via a YouTube livestream with the Journal of the American Medical Association about the state of coronavirus in the U.S.

He said that the pandemic was going to carry on into 2021, where some athletic directors had hoped, in the event of a full fall postponement, a spring football season might be created.

“I am worried,” he said. “I do think that fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we have experienced in American public health.”

Even in the Southeastern Conference, where some fans are prone to believing the virus is a hoax, commissioner Greg Sankey sounded a lot less optimistic than before.

“(There were) a couple phone calls last week where you realize exactly what you can see — that the public health trends are not what we had hoped, not what we were seeing in May and June,” he told the Paul Finebaum Show on ESPN. “There has to be more intent, more focus on heeding the guidance that has been provided on distancing, on gathering, on face masks, on hand sanitization.”

Well, those instructions have been around since March, yet the U.S. line on the coronavirus hospitalization graph is going up faster than a three-ball by Steph Curry.

Maybe it will take the full denial of the drug of college football before sobriety seems like a better health choice.


  • Alan Harrison
    • art thiel

      Good to see youth learning life’s lessons early.

      • Alan Harrison

        You may not have intended this, but if there is a silver lining (and it’s tiny, admittedly), it is that there are some overly coddled athletes, college and professional, who are discovering — perhaps for the first time — that they are not the center of the universe. And they never were, despite what their agents, coaches, and entourage members tell them.

        • art thiel

          That is often true, but my acquaintance with a number of athletes over a number of years tells me many are more well-grounded than you might imagine. They just don’t get attention from people like me.

  • Lodowick

    “Approximately 5% of the cases in the U.S. have resulted in death”.

    I don’t disagree with your thesis about the dangers of starting up the college football whirlwind next month. But the figure used above for mortality rate (5%) is wildly inaccurate. After interviewing 1300 scientists the WHO has the worldwide mortality rate at .064%. The U.S. rate may be closer to 1% but 5% does not take into account the many, many positives that are undiscovered due to a lack of testing. In February, a Swiss medical journal predicted the true count of positives from Covid-19 would be multiple factors of magnitude greater than the ‘discovered’ count. A single factor of magnitude would reduce 5% to .5%, which is still quite high given the transmissibility. So caution is ALWAYS called for, as you suggest.

    • James

      As of July 15 there were 3,483,905 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, and there were 138,358 deaths. 138,358 / 3,483,905 = 0.0397 which is a 3.97% mortality rate.

      The 5% rate was earlier in the pandemic before the testing greatly expanded.

      • Lodowick

        CONFIRMED cases mean nothing. ACTUAL cases mean a lot. I’ll run with Fauci, who has said this is “as infectious” as the Spanish Flu, which reached one third of the population one hundred years ago. One third of our population? 110 million. There is no way we don’t have ten million positives right now, maybe twenty million positives. We’ve tested a small portion of the entire population. BTW, I’m not a conservative. Just representing dissenting opinion with Seattle Times/New York Times, which push fear. I’m running with scientific analyses.

        • James

          Show me where you are “running with scientific analyses” by providing a link to your claim of “worldwide mortality rate at .064%”.

          For my part I provided the Johns Hopkins link as back up.

        • Chris Alexander

          Non-confirmed cases are theoretical. It could be that 10 million people in the US have had it or that 20 million people in the US have had it or that all 300+ million people have had it. It’s just a GUESS. The only solid numbers we have to go off of are the ACTUAL tests and those tests tell us that ~3.5M Americans have tested positive.

          That said, I do agree that if ~3.5M Americans have tested positive then the number of Americans who HAVE (or HAD) the virus is likely many times higher. Especially since so many people are asymptomatic. There have been reports lately about the number of students on UW’s Greek Row who tested positive and what stood out to me about those reports is the fact that, per the reports that I read, NONE OF THEM showed any symptoms.

          At the end of the day, the only way we will EVER have a clear understanding of how many people have and/or had the virus is if EVERYONE is tested – both for the virus and for antibodies from the virus. And we’ll never have 100% testing so …

          • art thiel

            One of the epidemiologists interviewed on CNN made the point that this virus is particularly diabolical in that, unlike Ebola or SARS, it is not nearly as lethal, which means it survives in each host and thus distributes more widely because the young and the healthy don’t succumb as easily. That gives it the leisure of drifting among all ages to find compromised immune systems.

          • John

            “There are no differences but differences of degree between different degrees of difference and no difference.” William James

          • Husky73

            If it was on CNN (Clinton News Network or Communist News Network) it’s a lie, a smear and hoax, right?

        • art thiel

          Explain, please, the difference between confirmed and actual.

          • Lodowick

            It’s a crazy bug to pin down, that’s for sure. Epidemiologists knew going into the pandemic that we would not find confirmed positives that were anywhere near the real number of those with the virus in their system, what could be called actual presence of Covid-19, found through testing for antibodies or viral load. The Swiss Medical Journal in February predicted infections (symptoms present or non-symptomatic) would be “multiple factors of magnitude” greater than confirmed cases. This is being born out. Wildly though, here on South Whidbey, where we have had no Covid deaths, in spite of tourism from Seattle and elsewhere, we tested 3,000 people recently and found no positives. For a coronavirus “insanely transmissable” that is just odd. So you tell me. How many ‘positives’ are we going to end with? Strange. I do believe we are ‘going down the river’ with Sars-2. We’ll survive it but we won’t destroy it.

          • art thiel

            My question didn’t get answered, but I fear you’ve tipped the virus to an overlooked place.

          • James

            Oh, let me try.
            The difference between confirmed and actual is like the difference between 1coolguy and Lodowick.

    • art thiel

      The 5% figure was from Dodd’s story quoting Dr. Jacobson. I didn’t verify it independently, but five percent of 2.600,000 Jacobson used at the time of his calculation is 130,000, which was close to the CDC mortality number.

  • Kirkland

    Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville won the GOP nomination for Alabama’s Senate seat yesterday. I wonder what his take will be.

    • Husky73

      His take will be whatever Trump’s is…….

    • art thiel

      I want the Dems to run Alabama native Charles Barkley against him.

      • SeattleSince57

        Always entertaining to get ‘bama QB Joe Namath, to weigh in..

      • Kirkland

        Barkley was a Republican until the second Gulf War. Would that be a deal-breaker for the Dems or him?

        • art thiel

          I believe the D’s accept repentant sinners.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Mr. Art.
    There will be no problem with college ball, as you can see right here–all we need to do is have a certain Tangerine T*rd be some type of commissioner:

    There isn’t any iceberg.
    There was an iceberg somewhere but it’s in a totally different ocean.
    The iceberg is in this ocean but it will melt very soon.
    There is an iceberg after all but we didn’t hit the dang iceberg.
    We glanced off the iceberg, but the damage will be repaired very shortly.
    The iceberg is a Chinese iceberg.
    We are taking on water but every passenger who wants a lifeboat can get a lifeboat, and they are beautiful lifeboats.
    We have more lifeboats than any other vessel on Earth.
    Look—passengers need to ask nicely for the lifeboats if they want them.
    We don’t have any dang lifeboats, We are not lifeboat distributors.
    Passengers should have planned for icebergs–especially Chinese icebergs–and brought their own stinkin’ lifeboats.
    I really don’t think we need that many lifeboats and they’re supposed to be OUR lifeboats, not the passengers’ lifeboats.
    The lifeboats were left somewhere else by the last captain of this vessel. Especially probably undoubtedly maybe the black guy.
    Nobody could have foreseen this Chinese iceberg. Especially the black guy.
    If somebody dies because we hit the Chinese iceberg, they were already old and on their last legs anyway.
    When the meeeedia computes some of the deaths from the Chinese iceberg, they will record “drowning” which is totally unrelated to any Chinese iceberg. (This is why I changed the reporting protocols earlier this week.)
    “Drowning” and “the vessel hit the iceberg” are totally unrelated. Nearly zero deaths actually happened because of our vessel actually hitting a Chinese iceberg.
    There were a million people signed up to attend our Titanic rally, but those dang protesters kept most of the rally attendees from coming.
    Otherwise things are perfect, jus like I said, especially with all this winning all the time.

    • James

      There’s a new one…

      Navigation officer Fauci has been wrong about everything.

      • art thiel

        First Lt. Brad Parscale said there were no icebergs here four years ago.

        • James

          The iceberg is with us, but we need to learn to live with it.

    • Tman

      The orange turd you refer to may end up looking for Roger Goodell’s job. Mr Tangerine Man’s football team is one of his 6 bankruptcies. League owners blame Orange Don for bankrupting the USFL. Looks like the Orange one has the whole country headed for bankruptcy. Hang on to your wallets. Keep an eye out for Repo man. Bolt the Benz down at night.

    • art thiel

      If that’s your work, Angelo, well done. If you stole it, thanks for sharing.

      So much winning.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        Mr. Art
        Is there a hint of suspicion of plagiarism here? If so, I’ll pre-answer and said answer is maybe yes. I did happen to read a post on the NYT site about the Drumpfh virus response, and may have “adjusted” said post. If I had happened to adjust anything, no copyright is involved, and in any case, I probably had a boatload of fun reading, adjusting, and sharing.

        I certainly appreciate the “Thiel Seal of Approval.” I know how hard it is to acquire said seal.

        • art thiel

          Laughs are in short supply. My seal is easy if I laugh.

    • Husky73

      Captain, the ship is taking on water and listing at 20 degrees. What shall we do?…Captain Trump—“Stop measuring! We need less measuring! And take off those life vests. They make me look bad.”

  • jafabian

    The quotes and numbers almost suggest an acceptable number of losses. The NCAA will never admit that but I question if there’s a number somewhere. If this was a military action, a war, then that would be understandable but not for non-essential sports entertainment. The NCAA should ask themselves if they are prepared to handle the fallout from the possible death of a student athlete and the resulting lawsuit that would most likely follow. They could handle 1 or 2 but a handful? And what about coaches and staff?

    When the White House is insisting that schools and sports continue in the Fall will all schools be unified in saying no? I doubt it. POTUS has his supporters, athletic and all. But would some conferences play and some not is the question. (Would it matter if the Colonial or MEAC Conferences didn’t play in the NCAA’s eyes for example) Or some divisions like Division II or Division III sports. I’m praying wisdom comes into play and season is cancelled. It isn’t worth any long term effects or even a single life.

    • art thiel

      The president has no statutory authority regarding local school districts. It’s another empty threat. He can choose to try to cripple colleges for staying online by ending federal support, but it’s another horrendous act of bullying that will help cost his thin red line of Republican senators to lose their seats. Unless of course, the R’s are out to end education so that our future doctors are dumb as Devin Nunes. Explain that to Mrs. Nunes.

  • SeattleSince57

    Ok, get ready, Below here, are term papers turned in so far..

  • Fu Bar

    Ahhh … the comments section never fails to disappoint. Thanks for the laughs in trying times.

    I suspect the NCAA Power 5 will do its impression of McDonald’s scalding coffee analysis. If the expected lawsuit(s) payout is less than the massive TV revenue, they will play. The on welfare truly considered will be their own financial welfare.