Gov. Ron DeSantis wants college sports teams to play their fall season as regularly scheduled, and Florida State University officials think they’re setting an example for how to keep their players safe.
In recent days, the Governor has called for the annual Florida State versus University of Florida football game to go on after the Southeastern Conference effectively canceled it. And as more conferences announce plans to modify or cancel their fall sports seasons, the National Collegiate Athletic Association could postpone the season.
“We believe that discussions about short-circuiting the season are entirely misplaced, and I support Florida State continuing to play with the season as I do all the sports throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday from the turf of Florida State’s practice field.
FSU President John Thrasher backed the Governor in saying his school’s team will be ready to play the first game of the season on Sept. 12.
“What we frankly want to send is a message to some of the other schools that may be teetering on whether or not to play football,” Thrasher said. “We think it is in the best interests of our athletes for us to play football.”
The logistics of delaying the season nationwide could make play impossible for Northern schools in the colder months. And kicking the can down the road, banking on conditions improving months from now, aren’t foolproof, said FSU Athletics Director David Coburn. Access to vaccines, the pandemic and hospital load during the regular flu season could complicate a spring season.
“If you make that decision and then ultimately you can’t play … can you gamble by continuing to burn through your budget like right now?” he added.
Players will be safe, officials reiterated, with DeSantis adding that he was surprised by the precautions in place at FSU. Players have their temperatures checked, answer screening questions, receive wrist bands, wear masks and are separated from athletic staff, Coburn explained. Athletes are currently tested weekly, and he added that testing could be bi-weekly during the season, culminating in a response that is “above and beyond what the medical folks have advised.”
“I think all these red herrings that are out there that have talked about, frankly, we’ve dealt with, we’ve dealt with for the entire time that we’ve been getting ready to play football,” Thrasher said. “We’ve tried to imagine every circumstance that could happen, and we think we can do it safely.”
Defensive End Joshua Kaindoh, who intends to play again after a season-ending injury last year, said the team structure creates accountability when otherwise players would be practicing on their own.
“You talk about 18- to 22-year-olds just quarantining at their house, that’s unrealistic. There’s so many other things that guys are going to go do, which is not safe,” added Wide Receiver Keyshawn Helton, who also plans his return.
DeSantis shared that cynicism:
“Let’s be clear. (If) you don’t have sports, it ain’t like there’s not going to be activities going on with college students,” he said. “In fact, it will be unsupervised, it will be unstructured. Just from a corona perspective, you would want the kids, I think, in the athletic program.”
The Governor, a former varsity baseball team captain at Yale University, has emphasized the importance of organized sports for youth development, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, DeSantis pointed to professional sports leagues like the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, which have found innovative ways to bring back their seasons.
But on Tuesday, Thrasher could not say whether the return of professional sports played a role in FSU’s commitment to play this fall.
It’s not just football on the line, the Governor noted, saying people want to watch women’s soccer again. And with the men’s basketball teams’ success, he hoped they could find a way to finish their season.
“You’ve got a lot of athletes who work their tail off to get here, getting a great education and having a great college career, and maybe that’s it for them,” DeSantis said. “But that final season or one of those seasons, that means the world to those student athletes, and we don’t want to be in a situation where all that work was for naught and they weren’t allowed to be able to apply their craft.”
DeSantis’ news conference came as the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-12 Conference on Tuesday called off all fall sports, including football, because of health and safety concerns related to the pandemic. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were first two major athletic conferences to take the step, though smaller conferences also have called off fall seasons.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a prepared statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also pointed to challenges in keeping student-athletes from getting exposed to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble,” Scott said in a statement. “Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant. We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.