NCAA

Nick Saban Already Lost the SEC Without Alabama Taking the Field

Alabama could be out of the running for football championships this fall. The question now is whether coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide just tipped over the first domino that could send the whole 2020 college football season tumbling.

Reports: Multiple Alabama players test positive for the coronavirus

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At least five Alabama football players who recently returned to Tuscaloosa have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, according to a website that covers the Crimson Tide.

The players who were diagnosed have not been identified, nor have university officials confirms the report by BamaInsider.com. However, a local television station said its source confirmed the story and was able to provide additional details.

According to WIAT-TV, the players were tested Tuesday and received the results Thursday. The athletes, who were not identified, reportedly showed no signs of illness. The report said the players included a quarterback, a lineman, and “a couple” of skill-position players.

The athletes arrived back in Tuscaloosa this week ahead of voluntary workouts that are scheduled to begin June 8. They worked out together Wednesday.

University of Alabama officials recently determined that the campus would return to in-person classes for the fall semester.

An immediate concern for Alabama officials

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Alabama is not the first FBS program potentially dealing with positive COVID-19 test results. Oklahoma State officials revealed Wednesday that three athletes had tested positive. Four Iowa State athletes are under quarantine after possible  exposure to the coronavirus.

However, the Alabama campus is in the middle of a region experiencing a flare-up of positive test results. More than 45% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tuscaloosa County have come in the past two weeks. That prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put the county on its national watch list.

The Southeastern Conference announced two weeks ago that June 8 was the target date for allowing in-person athletic activities to resume on campuses, with the process for how to proceed being left to the discretion of school officials. The SEC also formed a task force to formulate plans for dealing with positive test results.

A rash of new cases could result in local or state officials imposing new safety measures in the Tuscaloosa area. There was already concern that students participating in weekend protest rallies around the country may have risked exposure by not practicing social distancing and other safety measures.

Any development that delays the Crimson Tide’s start to voluntary workouts or official preseason training would be a setback, especially if defending national champion LSU and Alabama’s other SEC rivals are able to stay on track.

Alabama is coming off its 12th straight season with double-digit win totals. The team played in four straight College Football Championship games before falling short last season and defeating Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.

Alabama is scheduled to open against USC on Sept. 5.

Obvious implications for all of college football

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All of the professional sports normally played in the spring have struggled with getting back on track after much of the country was all but shut down in early March. NASCAR is competing again, and NBA executives have given approval to a resumption plan. But the NHL, MLS, and Major League Baseball still find themselves in the weeds.

The situation is considerably more complicated for colleges. The NCAA called off its basketball tournaments in March just days before the brackets were to be announced and followed up by canceling the entire spring season.

Although the NCAA can offer guidance, it is up to the conferences and their member schools to kick-start the fall season for sports such as football, soccer, and cross country. Many schools are already envisioning competition taking place without fans or with much smaller crowds than usual.

The fear is that new coronavirus outbreaks at one or two schools could trigger shutdowns of entire conferences mandated either by the schools or government officials. That has the potential to trigger a domino effect that decimates the season-ending championships.