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AP file photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama football coach Nick Saban

A friend phoned me with a novel idea on Monday, a suggestion that could surely take flight at 13 of the Southeastern Conference's 14 institutions of higher learning.

"I'm really worried about (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban," my friend began. "He's like 68 years old, which is right in that danger zone for getting the coronavirus. I really think he should consider sitting this season out for his long-term health interests."

Uh-huh.

But while my Clorox Orange-loving friend has undeniably selfish motives for such a request — given the Crimson Tide's 13 straight victories over Tennessee, the longest such streak in the 102-game series between the two — it's beginning to look more and more like there should be serious cause for concern about the wisdom of playing any sports this fall, especially football.

Or as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's highest-ranking specialist in infectious diseases, said last week: "Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall."

Let's be clear. Major college football teams at the Power Five conference level such as the SEC will do everything possible to play this autumn, if only to honor lucrative television contracts. Fans or no fans in the stands, if they can put anything on the field that will be remotely suitable for viewership on CBS, ABC or the endless number of ESPN channels, they will.

But to look at very recent headlines, it's also reasonable for anyone to argue against the wisdom of such selfish, desperate acts.

Over the past week, according to Sports Illustrated, reigning national champion LSU has reportedly quarantined at least 30 players over COVID-19.

ESPN has reported that Clemson, the national runner-up last January, has had 23 players test positive for the virus.

Kansas State has suspended its return to athletics for 14 days after 14 Wildcats athletes across all sports tested positive among 130 tested.

The point is, none of this is getting better. The more we attempt to open up and get back to normal as a society, the worse the test results are getting. And when it comes to football in particular, the amount of close contact during these early training workouts is nothing close to resembling what it will be in late July or August.

No wonder University of Miami team physician Dr. Lee Kaplan told a web panel with Newswise last week: "If you look at what Dr. Fauci said, he doesn't think we're going to be able to play football without a bubble. That's impossible in college sports. There's a high level of exposure of college students just meeting in the dorms and their living conditions. Then we have limited facilities with 500-plus athletes at the University of Miami. Some schools like Florida, Wisconsin, they have 800 to 1,000 athletes."

Exactly.

Nor is this confined to college football only. Major League Baseball, its season already in jeopardy due to its greedy owners and players, announced Friday night that it was temporarily closing all training camps after multiple teams reported positive COVID-19 tests. The NFL has already had players test positive on as many as 10 teams, and they haven't come close to contact drills.

Nor is every college football team assuming they'll be dealt with honestly when it comes to being notified of a positive test and observing best health practices thereafter.

Thirty players at UCLA have asked for a third-party health professional to be present when COVID-19 tests are administered as the team returns to campus for voluntary team activities. They reportedly don't trust Bruins head coach Chip Kelly to be honest with them about the results, telling the Los Angeles Times last week that the school has "perpetually failed us" and that UCLA's medical staff has "neglected and mismanaged injury cases."

Can anyone seriously believe that the Bruins are the only Power Five program in the country where the players don't trust their coaches?

This isn't to say that there absolutely, positively won't be big-time college football this fall throughout the SEC and elsewhere. Not playing football could be catastrophic to college athletics as we've long known it, even to the point of possibly erasing it altogether at numerous institutions already struggling to make ends meet.

And to briefly return to Miami's Kaplan, scenarios could easily arrive throughout the season that no one wants to discuss today.

"I will be shocked if we think we're going to get through a college football season without a game being canceled, or a star quarterback or a Heisman Trophy-leading player just not being able to finish the season," he said. "Because even if you get quarantined, it's two weeks. Then you have to test negative. That's if you don't have it. If you have it, it could be totally different. So, we're really only at the beginning of this."

When you put it that way, Saban might be far from the only one wise to sit out football this fall.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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