Since the NCAA began to discuss bringing athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts early this summer, Chris and Mya Hinton — the parents of Michigan defensive lineman Chris Hinton Jr. — have been concerned. Early on, the protocols in place for preventing athletes from contracting the virus were, in their minds, sporadic and insufficient.
So as more and more schools resumed workouts, the Hintons joined with other concerned parents to form the group, College Football Parents 24/7. “There was no protocol that schools had to adhere to,” Chris Sr. said in July. “They just gave the date and said, ‘Have at it.’ ”
Two months later, they’re still at the forefront of ensuring proper protocol is met in any football-related decisions. Now, though, they’re fully bought in on the Big Ten’s return to play. And when Michigan takes the field for the first time five weeks from, Chris Jr. will be playing. “Yes, he will,” Chris Sr. told The Daily on Thursday. “He’s excited and we’re excited.”
So, what changed?
For one, advancements in testing have enabled the Big Ten to enact a more comprehensive testing system than would have been possible on Aug. 11, when the conference indefinitely postponed the fall season. Athletes, coaches and trainers will undergo rapid antigen testing every day, with PCR testing to confirm positive cases.
A month ago, rapid antigen tests were $150 each, according to Chris Sr. Now, they’re less than 10 percent of that, at approximately $10 per test. That decrease in price, coupled with advancements in accuracy, helped make it feasible for the conference to provide daily testing.
“Testing prevents spread,” Chris Sr. said. “It doesn’t prevent the disease but it prevents spread. It catches it early and prevents it spreading through the team. Which you’ve seen, 72 cases at Texas Tech and the whole team at LSU. You don’t get that with testing. Testing and tracing.”
The conference has also enacted a minimum 21-day sit-out period for those who test positive — 14 days due to COVID-19 isolation and seven days to test for potential cardiac issues. That mandated sit-out time, which is the longest of any conference, will not only help prevent the spread but will also encourage players to avoid social gatherings.
“I’m not leaving my house unless I’m in (Schembechler Hall),” linebacker Josh Ross said. “That’s the first thing I thought. I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere. Of course, if I got class. But other than that, I’m in my apartment.”
And with players largely shuttling between their apartments and practice facilities, Chris Sr. is confident that schools will be able to prevent outbreaks.
“I truly believe that if our son were to contract the virus, it won’t be on the football field,” Chris Sr. said. “I think it would be on campus. So with the things that are put into place, I think he’s safer on the football field than he is on campus.”
As for the lack of bye weeks and prep time before the season, Chris Sr. isn’t concerned. He and Mya were in Ann Arbor this week and, through their conversations with Chris Jr., are encouraged by the level at which Michigan has been practicing. “They’ve been training like they’re getting ready for a season,” Chris Sr. said. The Wolverines’ ability to continue full-speed practices (albeit without pads) after the initial cancelation will help them avoid soft-tissue injuries once the season starts, he added.
The other factor that encourages the Hintons is that protocols will be uniform throughout the Big Ten, as established by the conference’s Return to Play Taskforce. The ability to enforce uniform protocol was one of their initial reasons for teaming up with other parents to demand change, which they have done through bi-weekly meetings with Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer.
And now, three months after forming College Football Parents 24/7, they’re getting their wish.
“How much the noise that we’re making came into play, I don’t know,” Chris Sr. said “But we’re happy that we felt like the NCAA was listening. And I truly believe that conferences were listening to the fact that parents were concerned and addressed that. So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re where we are now.”