Alabama HC Nick Saban: CFB Players 'A Lot Safer with Us' Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2020

Alabama head coach Nick Saban paces during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

Alabama head coach Nick Saban expressed his belief Monday that college football players would be better off amid the COVID-19 pandemic by staying with their respective teams as the 2020 season appears to be in jeopardy.

ESPN's Chris Low shared Saban's comments on the matter:

"I want to play, but I want to play for the players' sake, the value they can create for themselves. I know I'll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don't care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It's a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can't get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they're in a bar or just hanging out."

Saban went on to say that players "aren't going to catch [the virus] on the football field" and will likely instead "catch it on campus."

Saban's thoughts were echoed by AAC commissioner Mike Aresco on ESPN Radio 92.9: 

“We think that student athletes could well be and likely will be worse off if they don’t play, for all sorts of reasons we can discuss. They’ve been practicing in one form or another for a couple of months. Here, we have a good outcome right now. I don’t know what it will be like when students come back to campus, but that begs the question if suddenly things go the wrong way, they would have gone the wrong way if these student athletes weren’t playing sports. They might be outside not getting tested, not knowing they have the disease and the outcomes could be a lot worse.”

He appeared to be extending his support to the #WeWantToPlay movement, which was started on social media by a number of college football players, including Clemson star Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State star Justin Fields.

Among the demands was "universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college-athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA."

Trevor Lawrence @Trevorlawrencee

#WeWantToPlay https://t.co/jvQhE7noGB

Justin Fields @justnfields

#WeWantToPlay https://t.co/NgKG9Nab9c

Saban's argument has some merit despite programs such as Clemson and Rutgers experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. He also hit on the contradiction between universities possibly welcoming students back to campus while conferences cancel or postpone fall sports.

Dan Patrick reported Monday the Big Ten and Pac-12 are planning on canceling the fall football season tomorrow, with more Power Five dominoes to fall:

Dan Patrick Show @dpshow

DP was told an hour ago that the Big 10 and Pac 12 will cancel their football seasons tomorrow... The ACC and the Big 12 are on the fence.. And the SEC is trying to get teams to join them for a season. Watch live: https://t.co/sMaeXQkLfl https://t.co/oSUNGMTEqw

A number of sports leagues in the United States showed how managing the pandemic can be done in a bubble to closely monitor players and limit their interactions with the outside world.

The problem with that idea is less about feasibility and more about pragmatism on the part of the NCAA. It would seemingly be an admission that college football players aren't like traditional college students, thus reinforcing longstanding arguments against amateurism.

Michael McCann @McCannSportsLaw

I agree, @bySLPrice. Playing college football this fall will open up schools, conferences, coaches & NCAA to lawsuits should players get sick. Also, if players are required to spend more time on athletics or relocate to a bubble, they'll gain stronger argument they are employees. https://t.co/WicKoCstNd

Saban's comments also allude to the notion that every university has approached the pandemic with the same level of care.

The Coloradoan's Miles Blumhardt spoke with players and staff members at Colorado State who alleged that football coaches "have told players not to report COVID-19 symptoms, threatened players with reduced playing time if they quarantine and claim CSU is altering contact tracing reports to keep players practicing." One football player called it a cover-up.

Power Five conferences could hypothetically set up regional bubbles to stage a 2020 season while not significantly jeopardizing the health of their players. Whether that becomes a reality is another matter entirely.