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More Than 6,600 in FBS Athletics Have Tested Positive

Paul Steinbach Headshot

More than 6,600 college athletes, coaches and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus this year, a dispiriting measure of the pathogen’s reach across the United States and its spread among some of the country’s most closely monitored people.

The Baltimore Sun, citing analysis by The New York Times, reports that at least 6,629 people who play and work in athletic departments that compete in college football’s premier leagues have contracted the virus, according to a New York Times analysis. The vast majority of those infections have been reported since Aug. 15, as players, coaches and the staff members around them prepared for and navigated the fall semester, including football season.
 

The Sun contends that the actual tally of cases is assuredly far larger than what is shown by The Times’ count, the most comprehensive public measure of the virus in college sports, because The Times was able to gather complete data for just 78 of the 130 universities in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. Some of those schools released the pandemic statistics only in response to requests filed under public records laws.

The remaining schools, many of them public institutions, released no statistics or limited information about their athletic departments, or they stopped providing data just before football season. This had the effect of drawing a curtain of secrecy around college sports during the gravest public health crisis in the United States in a century, The Sun reported. No athletic department that shared data reported any deaths associated with the virus, the spread of which the NCAA did not track at its member schools.

The NCAA, whose oftentimes limited power over its leagues and schools has been conspicuous throughout the pandemic, said in a statement to The Times that “medical data is governed by a variety of federal and state regulations and, for that reason, access and use are determined at the institutional level.” It added that more than a dozen of its members had shared information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “for the purpose of better understanding resocialization as it pertains to quarantine and testing.”

The data gathered by The Times, though, shows at least some of the consequences and risks of a porous, multibillion-dollar athletic network centered on college campuses. Although five members withheld complete data, schools in the 14-member Big Ten Conference collectively acknowledged at least 1,850 infections, the most of any league. Minnesota reported 336 cases in its athletic department, more than any other school in the FBS, including 176 in November alone.

Raw numerical figures like the ones universities have provided cannot reveal the origins of any single infection or cluster of cases, The Sun reported. An athlete could have easily contracted the virus from a friend or relative rather than a teammate. And experts believe that virtually none of the infections in college sports are linked to the games themselves. Rather, they are far more often traceable to meetings, meals, travel or nonathletic activities that then seed cases.

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