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What College Sports Can Learn from the NHL and the NBA amid COVID-19

The Big Ten football conference just announced the cancellation of its 2020 football season, sending shock waves throughout the college sports field. The conference cited risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 as the reason. More of the NCAA’s “power conferences” are considering following suit.

A leading data scientists and computer modeler who’s studied college sports for years believes canceling seasons is a mistake.

Sheldon Jacobson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says there are many reasons not to cancel college football or basketball seasons and using the effectively implemented strategies of the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the way to do it.

Some main points:

  • Focus on what the athletes are doing during the 20-23 hours per day when they are not on the ice or the court.
  • The NHL and NBA have re-imagined the entire day for athletes, creating a bubble to insulate the athletes from the spread of COVID while they compete.
  • College sports has something better than data and computer models about the possible spread of COVID-19 – experience.
  • Effective mitigation in NHL and NBA, locker rooms, hotel regimens, home regimens, by isolating athletes from exposure during the times of their day when they could otherwise risk long periods of exposure to the virus if not careful.

The irony, Sheldon says, is that if college athletes’ seasons are cancelled, that thrusts them back into the general student population where their risks of contracting COVID-19, dramatically increase.

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