Stop Running, Keep Dribbling
The resumption of athletics nationwide in recent months has begun to include both professional and collegiate sports. Sports franchises and universities located in the south have had fewer coronavirus restrictions than their northern counterparts. Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) has enjoyed a high approval rating with regards to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The juxtaposition of Tulane, a southern school, and Boston University, a northern school, can give insights on how the universities have handled the pandemic.
Consider Boston University (BU) as an example. BU has succeeded in maintaining a high level of testing for the students living on campus and off campus in the Boston area. For athletics, this means that there has also been more restrictions for practice conditions as a result of the colder climate. Schools in the North are unable to host year-round practice outdoors, where it is safer to do so with a lower risk of transmission between athletes. The Boston University men’s basketball team made headlines in February for requiring all ten players on the court to wear masks for the duration of the game.
Of the nine meets scheduled for BU’s 2020 - 2021 track and field team, eight were canceled. The ninth meet of the indoor season did actually happen against Holy Cross on February 28. This is partially due to the major problem for college athletics in the North with their inability to practice outside during the winter. It is also due to the strict COVID-19 restrictions across Massachusetts for several months, which has made it difficult to hold effective practices on a regular basis for indoor athletics.
Tulane University, on the other hand, has seen fewer restrictions on athletics programs in response to COVID-19 in comparison to Boston University. Tulane has completed around ⅙ of the COVID-19 tests ( ⅓ if you control for population differences) that BU has. Even with the smaller scale of testing, both schools have approximately the same number of positive tests. This metric shows that Tulane’s safety measures have not been as effective as Boston University's restrictions in combating the spread of the coronavirus. Tulane has competed in three in person track meets in Houston, Texas. Tulane has had an abundance of track meets while BU has just had one goes to show that BU and Tulane have taken very different approaches to handle the COVID pandemic.
When you test less, you receive less positive results. Tulane as a whole can be a prime example of this. If tested as frequently as Boston University, there would likely be more positive cases. However, this may not be the case for a sport like track and field, where there is little actual contact between the players.
The weekend of February 28 was a turning point for track and field competition across the country, as track athletes competed in a series of indoor track and field meets. The meets began on Friday, February 25th across the country for the conference championships. The risk for these events does not necessarily come from the meet itself but rather the manner in which the players arrive at the meets. It is much easier to catch COVID-19 on the flight to a meet versus in a facility where all of the players are tested regularly.
Although track is considered one of the more low-risk sports, the risk for getting COVID has not been eliminated entirely. While Boston University’s basketball team has been able to compete since January, our Track and Field team has been sidelined. Although there is certainly something to be said how our basketball team makes more money for the school than our track team does, that is not a justifiable reason to prevent our talented athletes from competing. The absurdity of the paradox continues when one considers how track and field is a far less contact-heavy sport than basketball. BU’s track team has competed just once this season and its basketball team has competed more than 14 times. Tulane’s basketball team has competed more than 20 times and its track team has also competed substantially more than BU’s has. There is no difference in division. There is just a difference in culture across the country. There is more opportunity for competition in a place where COVID-19 is taken less seriously in athletics compared to a region that strives to protect its players. It is a clear but very unequal trade-off for these athletes who want to compete but don’t for safety reasons versus ones who do compete and risk their health.