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COVID-19 Pandemic Prompts Two Major US College Athletic Conferences to Postpone 2020 Football Seasons

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren addresses the media in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 12, 2020, after it was announced that the remainder of the Big Ten Conference men's basketball tournament will be canceled.

The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to have an effect on the sporting world, as two major U.S. college athletic conferences announced Tuesday they are postponing their upcoming fall (gridiron) football seasons.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said after consulting with the conference’s medical advisory board “it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said the presidents and chancellors of all of the member schools agreed their individual programs “are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant.”

The Big Ten includes such legendary collegiate football programs as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, while the Pac-12 conference, based primarily in the western United States, includes such traditional powerhouses as Stanford, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

In addition to football, the Big Ten says it is postponing all of its fall sports activities, including men and women’s track and field and American-style soccer. The Pac-12 said it will not hold any sports competitions for the remainder of 2020.

The two conferences, along with the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Big 12, make up the so-called “Power Five” major college athletic conferences, whose football programs are not only among the best in the nation, but also bring in billions of dollars in revenue from ticket sales and national television contracts.

The prospect of any U.S. college football being played during the traditional fall season amid the COVID-19 pandemic was thrown into doubt well before the Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed their seasons. Three other lesser conferences, including the Ivy League, which represents such prestigious schools as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have either postponed or outright canceled their football seasons. Medical experts have expressed concern that otherwise young and healthy athletes could develop long term health problems if they contract COVID-19, including heart and lung damage.

In this May 20, 2020 photo provided by the University of Alabama, football head coach Nick Saban and the school's elephant mascot, Big Al, wear masks on the university campus in Tuscaloosa, AL.
In this May 20, 2020 photo provided by the University of Alabama, football head coach Nick Saban and the school's elephant mascot, Big Al, wear masks on the university campus in Tuscaloosa, AL.

But U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of the leading figures urging college football to begin its season as normal, telling reporters at the White House Tuesday the players are “young, strong people” who will be able to fight off the virus.

The pandemic has forced the National Basketball League and National Hockey League to resume their seasons in centralized locations, dubbed “bubbles,” where players and coaching staffs must remain during competition. Major League Baseball’s shortened 60-game season has been marred with several players from the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals testing positive for COVID-19, forcing the league to postpone dozens of games and putting the truncated season at risk of being canceled.

Also on Tuesday, President Trump announced an agreement between the federal government and an American biotechnology company to manufacture and deliver 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The company, Moderna, is to manufacture the vaccine while clinical trials are underway. The company developed the vaccine in a joint initiative with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Three vaccine candidates in the United States are in the final stage of human trials.

“We’re on track to rapidly produce 100 million doses as soon as the vaccine is approved and up to 500 million shortly thereafter,” said Trump during a White House news conference.

The Trump administration’s latest actions are “increasing the likelihood that the United States will have at least one safe, effective vaccine by 2021,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement.

The president has recently stated he is optimistic a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready by the time of the U.S. presidential election in early November.

Trump did not comment on an announcement earlier in the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country has become the first in the world to formally approve a new COVID-19 vaccine, despite a lack of data to back up his claims that the drug is safe to administer to humans.

The Russian president also said his daughter has been inoculated in an early testing phase. She ran a slight fever on the first day, but her temperature dropped to normal the following day, according to Putin.

Production of the new Russian vaccine -- which has been dubbed Sputnik V, in honor of the world’s first man-made satellite launched by the then-Soviet Union in 1957 -- will begin next month, with mass vaccinations starting as early as October.

The new vaccine is one of more than 100 possible vaccines being developed in a global race by governments and biomedical firms to blunt a pandemic that has now infected more than 20 million people worldwide.

But it is not among the handful that reached the third and final phase of testing in human trials, which usually involve thousands of people and lasts for months, according to the World Health Organization.

Scientists within Russia have also questioned the move to register the vaccine before Phase 3 trials are complete, which are needed to prove it is not harmful to patients.

Russia has also been accused by the United States, Britain and Canada of using hackers to steal vaccine research from labs in their countries.