Ohio State sports, including football, will not take place this fall due to the Big Ten’s concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. But other sports, contact and non-contact, in the state of Ohio will go ahead and play. Governor Mike DeWine announced on Tuesday that all high school, middle school and youth sports can compete this fall.
In his press conference, DeWine said he spoke with parents, athletes, coaches, doctors, health experts about this decision before coming to the conclusion.
“We know, just as going back to school in person does increase the risks of spread, we know that sports, particularly contact sports, they do as well,” DeWine said. “It’s been said several times, the more spread there is in a community and more spread there’s going to be in the school, than the higher the risk is in the community. And in athletes as well.
“On the other hand, we all know the importance of sports. We’ve seen that with our eyes. Athletics can make a difference… It brings joy to an athlete and to their family as well… A young person, if they’re not playing sports will be doing other things with their time, and that has to be kept in mind as well.”
In addition to DeWine’s announcement, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center sports medicine doctor James Borchers, who played football for the Buckeyes from 1989-93, spoke at the press conference on his finding of having athletic events take place during the pandemic.
“Our experiences allowed us to study the effect of COVID and its effects, not on athletics but on sports and on participation,” Borchers said. “And I think probably the first thing that we’ve learned is that the community around our athletes is of utmost importance in our athletes being able to compete. When we are able to provide our athletes with a healthy environment and are able to have them follow the basic behaviors we’ve all been asked to follow around the virus, which is important to social distancing and good hygiene, face masks and following proper procedures in and around sports facilities and around conducting athletics, that makes a large difference for us.
“When the community does not have a healthy environment, we see a large infectivity rate. We have found that it’s more difficult and we struggle sometimes to have athletics and organized sports. So I think that is probably, first and foremost, the most important thing.”
Borchers’ statement likely will only frustrate Ohio State fans further. Borchers’ words only seem to strengthen many Buckeye coaches’ and players’ argument that the Ohio State facilities are the safest place for student-athletes because they are being monitored, tested regularly and help the players keep away from potential contact with the virus.
While players can still work out in the facilities and will likely be able to practice in some capacity this fall, there is not the same incentive to remain healthy and sacrifice as there would be during the season.
Borchers also discussed the mental health of athletes without sports, something that head coach Ryan Day addressed last week as well. When players who devote their lives to their sport, suddenly have that taken away, the results can be alarming.
“I think the second thing we’ve known, and I think everyone knows, is just how important athletics and sports is to our mental health and well-being and how important it is to join in together to allow sports to occur,” Borchers said.
While the Big Ten has not revealed its specific reasoning for electing to cancel fall sports, it is believed that the concern about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that is usually a result of a viral infection, was a major factor.
While Borchers acknowledged the risks and unknowns of myocarditis from COVID-19, he does not see it as a reason to not play sports and the focus should be on avoiding the spread of the virus to athletes instead.
“Sudden cardiac death in athletics is a tragic event. Fortunately, it’s a very rare event,” Borchers said. “It’s not something that’s common but something that we all hear some reports of and really requires vigilance on preparation. So all our great athletic trainers around the state of Ohio that are providing excellent emergency care are CPR training in the use of the automated external defibrillator. Those are really the ways we can save lives. So even more than our screening is our preparation.
“(It) highlights the need for prevention and healthy communities and rather than worrying about what we do when that occurs, which is a rare event, how can we prevent it from occurring.”
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Ohio State fans will find it difficult to understand why children will be allowed to take part in contact and non-contact sports at all levels this fall but 18-22 year olds have been told they cannot make a decision about whether they want to take the risk and play.
While the Big Ten must consider more than just Ohio, the conference spans 11 states with different rules and factors to consider, today’s decision by DeWine and the comments of Borchers further underscores that the Big Ten acted too quickly to cancel sports.