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Notre Dame's Deadly Game

When the history of COVID-19's cultural strangulation is written, the soothing words of comfort will seem like shrill hypocrisy.

In the case of big-time college sports, the stated rationale that protecting young athletes was the highest priority will seem particularly empty and false.

The evidence of facts stands before your eyes.

Take Notre Dame football, for example.

After playing their second game, the Irish have at least 13 players in quarantine or isolation. The number changes virtually everyday. None apparently had been infected as the first game week approached.

Notre Dame could not see it, could not stop it, could not save itself from the viral wave. The Irish seemed to have caught the virus on a closed-down, supermax-contained campus.

All along leading up to the opener against Duke, the Irish officially seemed to celebrate their deep care, concern, professional management and medical monitoring to justify starting the season during the pandemic.

And then the team was enveloped in its own epidemic apparently because, based on competing values, the world cannot function without college football.

Once started on a season, Notre Dame seems unable to stop. And more pertinent, if Notre Dame cannot protect its players, how can Ohio State, Michigan or Northwestern?

And apparently the lives of your athletes - all at risk from a deadly disease - is an acceptable wager in return for Saturday entertainment.

Are we not entertained?

Are we not comfortable and at ease with the odds that we and Notre Dame seem to wager?

This is a disease that kills people. Thought I'd toss that fact into the mix in case someone has forgotten.

The immediate effect is the postponement of this week's Notre Dame game at Wake Forest. Theoretically, they'll move the game to Dec. 12, which is an open date for both.

That gives Notre Dame two weeks to get healthy and survive the outbreak.

But that solution presumes all of ND's players are out of quarantine and that no others replace them. The chances of both being true seem flimsy. Indeed, Notre Dame's PR machine says the program is dickering with the other Atlantic Coast Conference schools - particularly Clemson and Boston College - about shifting the entire schedule.

Whatever careful planning and public assurances of order produced this season now have devolved into a "Cluster Ef." Notre Dame and the ACC thought they could manage "worst case" COVID-19 effects by being careful.

That has proven illusory.

But what has happened at Notre Dame is worse than superficial planning run amok.

It is a scandal of moral consequence. The lapse is even more troubling and ironic because Notre Dame does not recognize it.

Lives have been put at risk with the thin assurance that, don't worry. We've got all this under control.

But clearly Notre Dame has nothing under control when it comes to COVID-19.

Official statements by coach Brian Kelly seem disturbingly banal and even deflecting. Says his official Irish statement: "We knew COVID would present challenges throughout the season, and we'll always put student-athlete health and safety at the forefront of our decision making. We look forward to resuming team activities and getting back on the playing field."

This calming statement of assurance is explicitly not true.

What Notre Dame has done - along with the Big 10, which is rushing to play soon - is put the Saturday games "at the forefront of our decision-making."

Notre Dame might be hoping to keep players as healthy as possible, but that is not a triumph. That's less a concern about them as much as concern about how the games can proceed. Playing the game always comes first, which is why the Big 10 also will play.

Just saying "our players' safety comes first" is not proof. In fact, actions say the opposite. Player safety is just one factor weighed against the imperative of playing games.

All the decisions are designed to guarantee the games proceed and income accumulates, not that players are safe. Only one value at a time can be the top priority.

Never has college football seemed more like a big business with big business morals at its core.

If the player safety were the highest value, they all would be closed inside a containment bubble. And no games would be played until the virus was controlled, which it clearly is not.

So, let's take a risk, shall we? What do we have to lose except lives?

Given the combined piles of evidence, no moral justification exists for Notre Dame - or anyone else in college football - to be playing on Saturdays right now.

New positive tests after the victory over South Florida prove some Irish players were on the field after being infected. They did not test "positive" until after the game, but no one suggests they all caught the virus during the game.

Now it's clear that infected players exchanged body-on-body-fluids with each other and South Florida's players. They might well have functioned as a de facto "viral superspreader" on Knute Rockne Stadium's green carpet.

That is not guaranteeing player safety. That is ignoring safety. This is a football version of an evangelical pastor demanding his unmasked flock gather at church and thumb their noses at the virus.

Fans, of course, risk nothing. They are consumers, and consumers must be served. Almost all college fans now will get their dose of fun on television because it's not safe for them to be sitting together in the stadium.

I don't know if you've heard. But this COVID-19 is dangerous.


Previously: Notre Dame's Deception.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Dak Prescott Is The Hero Skip Bayless Will Never Be. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

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