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Chryst Says Daily Testing Has Changed The Game For Big Ten Football Amid Pandemic

Wisconsin Badgers Are Set To Play Oct. 24

Camp Randall Stadium in Madison
Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, is seen Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Madison, Wis. Less than five weeks after pushing NCAA college football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 23-24. Morry Gash/AP Photo

University of Wisconsin-Madison football players are making their way back to the field after the football program took a two-week break due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. And as they return, the start of a 2020 fall football season looks more real than ever.

On Wednesday, the day that the team held its first practice since the Big Ten announced it would hold a football season starting late October, Badgers head coach Paul Chryst told reporters everyone must do their part to ensure the team stays healthy. There’s been talk this season about whether players will opt out amid the pandemic, but Chryst said that the Badgers framed the choice to play as “opting in.”

“We just talked about, ‘You’ve got a chance to opt in. If you want to opt in, these are the things you’re going to have to do. If you want to play, you’re going to have to stay healthy,’” he said.

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Chryst said that daily coronavirus testing has gone a long way to make fall football possible by limiting the number of players and staff members who will be required to quarantine after potential exposure. Earlier this summer, before daily testing was instated, several players were required to quarantine three times — a total of 42 days each — after contact tracing showed they could have contracted the virus.

Conference-wide daily testing will also help give players the confidence that on game days, no one on the field is carrying the virus, he said.

Chryst said there’s always excitement before the start of a new season, but that this year especially, there’s a lot of gratitude.

“It’s been fun to be around the guys and get going, pointing toward the season,” he said.

For months, the fate of Big Ten football remained unclear. After presidents and chancellors from the league’s member schools voted to cancel the season due to COVID-19 concerns, several players at the University of Nebraska sued to have it reinstated. President Donald Trump even lobbied for fall games.

The league announced its decision last week to start play in October. Chryst said he thinks this year’s nine-game schedule will give the College Football Playoff Selection Committee plenty to consider when it comes to whether a Big Ten team should make the cut.

But college football has gotten off to a rocky start.

Forty-two Badgers players and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since June. More than half of those positive tests were recorded this month. Chryst said it’s not clear how each of the players contracted the virus, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t taking precautions.

“Just because they’ve gotten it doesn’t mean they don’t care about the team,” he said.

Already other teams have canceled or postponed games. This weekend, Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell will miss Florida State’s outing after testing positive for COVID-19. Chryst said the Badgers will aim to have contingency plans in place for anything that could happen during this unusual season, with hopes they’ll go unused.

There’s also the question of how college football could contribute to the community spread of COVID-19. Local public health officials have already asked residents not to gather for games. Though some college football teams have already started playing in front of large crowds, it’s unlikely Camp Randall will see many fans this fall thanks to Dane County public health regulations.

Several Madison businesses told WPR they have mixed feelings over the start of football season. Two restaurant owners said they didn’t expect football to bring a financial boon, because of county restrictions on indoor seating capacity.

On WPR’s “The Morning Show,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi questioned whether UW-Madison has done enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the area. Parisi said Wednesday he believes classes should remain online and students should be sent home, though he didn’t directly address football.

Parisi noted that metrics from the Harvard Global Health Institute indicate Wisconsin should enact a stay-at-home order due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state. On Wednesday, Wisconsin ranked first in the country for daily new cases per 100,000 people, according to the institute.

Parisi made his comments shortly before UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank sent a campus-wide email on Wednesday, announcing that the school would resume some in-person classes and other campus activity starting Saturday.

Here’s UW-Madison’s schedule for the upcoming football season:

• Oct. 24: Illinois at Wisconsin
• Oct. 31: Wisconsin at Nebraska
• Nov. 7: Purdue at Wisconsin
• Nov. 14: Wisconsin at Michigan
• Nov. 21: Wisconsin at Northwestern
• Nov. 28: Minnesota at Wisconsin
• Dec. 5: Indiana at Wisconsin
• Dec. 12: Wisconsin at Iowa