At Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, Brady Feeney is a celebrity. Feeney began the program’s powerhouse football program as a novice guard, eventually helping the cadets to two state championships as second and junior. He earned a weighted GPA well over a 4.0, was the school’s research athlete during the year and even found time to perfect a brass instrument in the school’s jazz band. “He’s a killer trumpet player,” said Scott Pingel, Feeney’s former head coach there.
For a big man, Feeney was in top form, always one of the last in the weight room, and apart from a knee injury, his high season had no real health complications or underlying problems. That̵
He had severe breathing problems to ensure a trip to the emergency room. In a post on his Facebook page, his mother, Debbie Rucker, described the ordeal as “14 days of hell.” Her son is still experiencing symptoms, she wrote, and he could suffer from heart-related problems as a aftermath of the disease. His blood work has indicated “additional problems as well.
As college football programs approach the first season camp, more college football players publicly reveal their battle with COVID-19, and even though none of them have died or been hospitalized in the long run, they have become ill. At least 800 college football players have tested positive for the virus, according to a compilation of either reported by schools or local reporters. The actual number is probably much higher.
On Monday, Arizona receiver Jaden Mitchell wrote that his three-week battle with the virus resulted in a 14-pound weight loss. “This virus is no joke,” he wrote.
LVE’s defensive end Travez Moore says he lost almost 30 kilos from the virus, while losing his sense of smell and taste and “you can barely breathe,” he wrote in a tweet.
At the same time, no less than five Power 5 players have announced that they are opting out of the 2020 season for health, safety or ethical reasons. At least two of them are high-profile NFL prospects: Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman.
Barriers to playing a college football season continue to increase. A group of Pac-12 players using the hashtag #WeAreUnited are threatening to boycott the season if a list of requirements is not met, including concerns about playing during a pandemic. Tuesday brought more movement of trade union organization in college athletics. Stadium reported that three-quarters of the Idaho football team is against playing this fall. UConn became the first FBS program on Wednesday to interrupt its 2020 season. According to both ESPN and Colorado, the coaches in Colorado State have said that players should not report COVID-19 symptoms and threatened players with reduced playing time if they quarantine, even though some players have refuted the report.
So where does this leave college football?
It is currently on its way to a modified 2020 season. Last Wednesday, the ACC announced its autumn football pitch. On Thursday, the SEC approved its own modified slate, and then a day later the Pac-12 followed. The Big 12 released news of their 10-game schedule Monday night, and the Big Ten’s announcement is expected soon. Group of Five makes their own plans for 2020, each one probably plays a somewhat normal conference schedule with a truncated part without a conference.
Administrators are entering the most important month yet for a season’s future. The actual tests will not be revealed yet. About halfway through the month, almost all FBS programs will be in the middle of the fall camp, and by the end of the month, the campus will be filled with regular students. Some are afraid that the combination could lead to nail-biting virus cases on campus that have finally had the disease. “The summer has told us that the bubble is working,” said a group of five athletic directors, referring to the strategy taken by the NBA, MLS and other professional leagues. “Our bubble will appear when students return to campus.”
At least 16 FBS programs have paused or canceled training sessions this summer due to outbreaks in the community or campus, and it was revealed Monday night that Rutgers is dealing with an outbreak of at least 30 positive cases from players and staff. The outbreaks alone are not as worrying as the athletes who have expressed concern. They reveal serious symptoms of the virus; groups of them express problems when they hold a season; and a handful have already announced that they will pass 2020.
Farley made his decision on security issues he had regarding Virginia Tech’s protocol, and Bateman says that the uncertainty in the situation made him do the same. Vanderbilt kicker Oren Milstein announced on Tuesday that he bypassed the “ethics of playing during a pandemic” season, and Arizona quarterback Kevin Doyle is opting out because of the risk, he wrote in a tweet. The first domino to drop out was Illinois’ driver Ra’Von Bonner, who announced last week he would not play, in part because he suffers from asthma.
Rucker wrote about his son’s trial in a Facebook post that went viral. She declined an interview with SI but told Indianapolis Star that her son had recovered enough from the virus to return to work with his teammates, as IU officials monitor the aftermath.
In his hometown of St. Louis has filtered through Feeney’s fight with COVID-19 through his old high school. “To the extent that he suffered, everyone was shocked,” said Rocky Streb, the athletic director and former wrestling coach at Christian Brothers who has known the Feeney family for several years. “The virus is pretty damn serious.”
University administrators put themselves in a position for athletes and their families. “People who say young people are not at greater risk – I do not agree,” said a Power 5 AD Sports Illustrated. “If it was my son, even though he was asymptomatic, I do not want him to go through it and be exposed to risk. There is too much we do not know about the long-term effects. “
An SEC assistant coach, who talks about anonymity, thinks his players want to play but feels that many are scared and worried. In response to the news wave, a Pac-12 administrator earlier this week described his sense of a season as “pessimistic”, despite the many conferences announcing plans to play.
The nationwide nail-biting of the virus has angered many, including Washington Huskies team doctor Jon Drezner, who sits on the Pac-12 COVID advisory panel. In an interview with SI at the end of last month, Drezner expressed his disappointment in the nation as a whole and how rising falls can torpedo a football season. “As the prevalence increases, it increases the likelihood that student athletes will test positive,” he says. “Right now we are really in a very difficult time, not only for sports but in our country. I am deeply concerned that our politicians do not have the courage to do what is right and make mandatory masking and, in many cities, protection in place until they have it under control. They cost human lives. “
Back in St. Louis tells Pingel that he shared a text exchange with Feeney. For the coach, the whole situation has worked as a wake-up call.
“It’s just the unknown that scares me the most,” he says. “Brady’s situation has opened my eyes.”
Pat Forde contributed to this report.