CLEVELAND — The Mid-American Conference, which houses the University of Akron and Kent State University, made the decision at the beginning of August to postpone the fall sports season due to COVID-19 concerns. Not long after, the Big Ten Conference followed suit. Over a month later and the Big Ten Conference has reversed its decision to postpone football, and the conference will play a shortened season beginning next month.
But what about the MAC?
On Saturday, MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher issued a statement, indicating discussions were underway to allow football to resume its season this fall.
“The Mid-American Conference Council of Presidents met this morning. Return to play models in the sport of football were reviewed,” Stenbrecher said.
The Council of Presidents had previously unanimously voted to postpone the fall season, citing the health and safety of the student athletes, coaches and communities as its top priority.
Although a meeting was held, Steinbrecher said no decisions were made, but another meeting—that is to be held sometime next week—will continue to examine the possibility of football’s return.
The current plan for MAC football would see a return of the sport this spring, which was a possibility for the Big Ten Conference as well before it reversed course and allowed for a fall season.
If the MAC were to decide to play football this fall, it would likely require a thorough plan, similar to that of the Big Ten Conference in which players will reportedly receive daily rapid COVID-19 tests.
The Big Ten’s plan also states that all players and coaches must test negative before stepping on the field for any practice or game and if a player or coach tests positive with a rapid tests, they'll need to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm a diagnosis of COVID-19.
Testing at that rate could be difficult for the MAC to do from a financial standpoint.
Although COVID-19 testing has become significantly less expensive than it was at the start of the pandemic, the cost to test every player in each of the MAC's 12 schools daily, in addition to testing coaches and staff members, would be substantial.
The MAC’s 12 schools faced a significant financial burden trying to maintain costly coronavirus protocols, which was one of the factors that prompted the conference’s university presidents to make the decision to explore a spring season for football in the first place. Add to that losing road games against power conference teams, which is a major revenue source for MAC schools, the conference took a major financial hit this year.
Having a plan for testing isn’t the only thing the MAC will need to consider.
If a player contracts COVID-19 during the season, the conference will need to have a plan for how to move forward while keeping that player and all other players safe.
The Big Ten Conference plans to rule any player who tests positive for the virus after a PCR test ineligible to return to the field for 21 days. That player will also be required to undergo "comprehensive cardiac testing" before being cleared to play, a response to noted instances of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, after contracting COVID-19.
The Big Ten also said that if the test positivity rate climbs too high among a team and the school population, teams will need to suspend football operations for seven days.
If the MAC reverses course it has a lot to consider, but the Big Ten Conference has created a model of a plan to resume play which could help guide the decision on having MACtion again this fall.
Either way, we'll know more after the MAC Council of Presidents meets again next week.