More than anything, I want college hockey to start. But I’m not sure it should.
On The Daily’s hockey beat, we cover hockey because we love hockey and we want to write about hockey. For the last month, we’ve covered a team we’ve never seen play in person. Nothing would make me happier than to spend hours at Yost scrambling to finish a flash gamer on time, transcribing interviews for way too long and staying awake until ungodly hours of the night putting the finishing touches on a story.
Of course, the fact that I want the season to start is justifiably irrelevant. If for some reason I didn’t want to watch live hockey — and would instead prefer to spend the rest of the year searching for player highlights on YouTube to break down — nobody would care. They shouldn’t care. I’m not the one taking the ice.
The only opinion that should matter is that of the players, and they’ve made it clear that they want to play. They’ve demonstrated it by following the rules and holding each other accountable, and the results show they’ve stayed responsible. Beyond one positive test from when the team initially arrived back on campus in July, every COVID test — of both players and coaches — has come up negative.
“Our players have done a great job taking care of themselves as far as that,” assistant coach Bill Muckalt said. “I know everybody’s negative right now.”
The key to keeping the players safe is continuing and expanding that testing and contact-tracing. For the last few months, players have been tested three times a week. In accordance with the Big Ten’s fall sports reopening plans, that will be ramped up to daily testing in the coming weeks.
So, to recap, people want to see hockey games, and players want to play hockey games. To achieve this, the players, coaches and even the Big Ten have come up with and followed responsible plans of action.
Unfortunately, the rest of us have not.
In Ann Arbor, we have failed to confront COVID-19 at every level. Individual students making poor decisions is one thing — it’s certainly bad, and students choosing to violate public health guidelines are selfish and entitled — but at least these individual failures can, to an extent, be contained. The unavoidable issue is that we’re nearly seven months into the pandemic, and testing scarcity is still making getting tested difficult for students. Every test we give to athletics is one that another vulnerable population isn’t getting.
It’s especially problematic in the context of the University’s abysmal pandemic response. Right now, a student can’t get a COVID test from the University unless they are symptomatic or have had direct contact with someone diagnosed with COVID. According to the University’s own COVID-19 dashboard, more than half of student positive tests in September came from outside testing sources. That means we’re likely missing a huge chunk of positive tests from students without access to a car.
Those who can get tested on campus — say, through the COVID-19 Sampling and Tracking Program, where a random sample of asymptomatic student volunteers are tested each week — will still have to wait two days for results to process. Fall athletes, meanwhile, will receive rapid antigen tests every day. This isn’t a guarantee that players won’t get the virus, it just means that when someone does, it’ll be easier to keep it from becoming an outbreak.
It’s not a problem that athletes are getting these tests; it’s a problem that everyone else is not.
In fairness, the Big Ten, not the University, is shouldering the cost of these tests for athletes. But does that make it any more justifiable that tens of thousands of rapid tests will be conducted on athletes, while local communities may not have access to asymptomatic testing at all? Even if they’re not taking the opportunity for testing from the University specifically, the tests are coming from somewhere.
Let me be clear on this: The Michigan hockey team deserves to have a season. The players have done everything right, and in a just situation, they would have a time and place already set for their first game.
But nothing about this situation is just — for anyone. We have to play with the cards we’re dealt, and because of our failed pandemic response, we’re stuck with off-suit nines and tens. We shouldn’t have to ration tests seven months into the pandemic, but we do.
And frankly, I’m not sure hockey’s worth it.
Roose can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BrendanRoose.
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