Doctor suggests players will die if college football season starts as planned

Should a college football season take place, one Big Ten professor expects tragedy.

Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois, told CBS Sports that if the roughly 13,000 FBS players return to their respective campuses as scheduled, he projects that 30 to 50 percent of players will contract COVID-19 this season – and three to seven players will die.

“A few of them could end up in the hospital, and you’ll have a small number who could die,” Jacobson told CBS Sports. “I don’t want to sugarcoat it for you. I just want to give you the facts. … If everybody comes together under normal circumstances, we’ll probably see that kind of outcome.

“I guarantee someone is going to die. The virus does not discriminate.”

Jacobson’s projections are based on CDC data — which estimates one death per 1,000 people with symptoms among people of 18 to 22 years of age — though he believes the death rate would be lower among football players, given the quality of team medical care. Offensive and defensive linemen, often weighing more than 300 pounds, would likely be most vulnerable to the disease.

Dr. Michael Saag, the professor of medicine and infectious diseases at UAB, supported Jacobson’s alarming projection.

“That’s not a hard projection to make now that I’m sitting here thinking about it,” Saag told CBS Sports. “Any death would be horrible. More than a couple would be a shame, actually.”

When Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus on March 11, the sports world stopped almost immediately, with every major American sports league either suspending or cancelling play, including the NCAA Tournament.

How would college football respond to potentially having the first high-profile COVID-19-related death of an American athlete?

“If it’s the starting quarterback for Alabama, that’s going to get a different level of attention than a third-string safety at Illinois,” Jacobson said. “The fact is the problem you’re talking about is much bigger than football. How much risk are you willing to tolerate on your campus to be able to open it up?

“The research suggests how much risk you’re willing to take will determine what kind of outcomes you’ll have. To think you’ll run away from infections is naïve.”

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