NCAA's Mark Emmert Says It's 'Almost Inevitable' Athletes Will Contract COVID-19

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 16, 2020

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, on intercollegiate athlete compensation. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh/Associated Press

NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a CNN interview on Friday (h/t Steve Berkowitz of USA Today) that it is "almost inevitable" student-athletes will test positive for COVID-19 after returning to campus.

"We have literally a half-million student athletes. We’ve got 1,100 different schools that participate in NCAA sports19,000 teams, not 32 (the number of teams in the NFL). So, to me, it’s not if a student comes down with the virus, it’s when. I think it’s almost inevitable with those kinds of numbers," he said.

Per World Health Organization figures on Friday, May 15, over 1.36 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, and over 82,100 people have died. There were 18,044 confirmed new cases Thursday.

The number of daily new cases has been cut in half and then some since a high of 38,509 on April 26, but a vaccine for COVID-19 appears destined to occur in 2021, meaning any opening up of society naturally involves assuming more risk of testing positive for COVID-19.

Emmert's comments come at a time when schools are discussing when to welcome back student-athletes to campus.

The SEC appears that it is leaning toward early-to-mid June, with LSU executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry (h/t Brooks Kubena of the Advocate) saying the SEC will vote on whether to bring student-athletes back to campus on either June 1 or June 15 during a May 22 meeting involving all 14 conference schools.

Likewise, Iowa appears ready to welcome back student-athletes on June 1. Iowa President James Bruce Harreld told reporters (h/t Vanessa Miller of the Gazette) that will be the date in Des Moines.

Not everyone is on the same page, though, with Oklahoma football head coach Lincoln Riley telling reporters (h/t Jason Kersey of The Athletic) that a June 1 return was "one of the most ridiculous things" he had ever heard.

Per the CNN interview, Emmert recognized the inevitability of student-athletes testing positive but also stressed the need to be prepared to test, contact trace and quarantine, with a particular emphasis on having enough testing to check all students, athletes or otherwise:

"Testing is going to be one of the critical variables here. Today we don't have access to that level of testing that you can check every student that walks on campus or every athlete that walks on to a field or a court at this stage.

"But we're very hopeful that will be case going forward. They’ve given all kinds of reassurances that's going to be the case. And it's going to be critical to making this work. That's what we're all pushing hard for."

The NCAA canceled their winter and spring championships on Thursday, March 12. The fall sports season's schedule has not yet been impacted by COVID-19.