The college sports world has experienced a whirlwind of news over the last week, with multiple Power 5 conferences announcing the cancellation of fall seasons and multiple others remaining on their current path to play for the time being.
Amid the uncertainty, Cameron Wolfe, a doctor in the division of infectious diseases at Duke and the chair of the ACC medical advisory team, met with all Duke student-athletes Wednesday evening, according to athletes that attended the meeting. In the meeting, Wolfe reportedly discussed why—despite the Big Ten and Pac-12's decisions—he is optimistic that the ACC will still have sports competition this fall.
"If you asked me this question 24 hours ago I probably would’ve had a different answer and been more skeptical," women's cross country senior Michaela Reinhart said Thursday afternoon in response to how optimistic she is that ACC championships will happen. "But we were on a Zoom call with Dr. Wolfe—he’s a big doctor at Duke, really nice guy. He agreed to get on a Zoom call with all student-athletes and kind of field any questions about COVID and what might happen, and he seemed pretty optimistic that the ACC wouldn’t cancel the rest of the season. And I do trust his judgement. Obviously it could change, but I’m pretty optimistic that it will happen."
On Tuesday, Wolfe told the Sports Business Daily that he believes football can be played safely this fall and that he is confident the ACC will continue with its plan to play fall sports, relaying that same optimistic stance to all Blue Devil student-athletes Wednesday.
One of the major points Wolfe touched on during the Wednesday meeting is why he believes the ACC is in a different position than the Big Ten and Pac-12, whose announcements that they were cancelling fall seasons is what many believed to be the beginning of the end for all Power 5 conferences.
Wolfe used the state of Arizona as an example, and how its strict guidelines posed a problem for both Arizona and Arizona State, two major schools within the Pac-12.
"I absolutely used the example of Arizona—of all the Pac-12 states, it's been more heavily affected by COVID than most," Wolfe, who did not respond to a request for a phone interview in time for publication, wrote in an email to The Chronicle regarding his meeting with student-athletes. "So the Pac-12 absolutely had to contemplate how they would handle traveling there, or having teams come from there."
Despite the optimism related to the ACC, men's cross country senior CJ Ambrosio does recall Wolfe mentioning that his own conference could face a similar issue with the state of New York and its own strict COVID-19 regulations. Ambrosio remembers Wolfe saying that the ACC will likely have to approach the state and ask if athletes are allowed to come in and out, given the COVID-19 protocols that the conference's athletes are following.
Another obstacle of fall sports happening is the lack of common testing protocols between schools in the conference. Ambrosio said the hope is that the ACC can make it work with different protocols in place, but that Wolfe believes it's probably best if everyone in the conference is on the same page.
"I think there was a hint that we kind of need other schools to step up," Ambrosio said. "He didn't say that directly, but it was kind of hinted that, ‘Hey, Duke seems really on top of things, but other schools may have different protocols.' He didn't really give a clear answer as to if we can compete with different protocols. That still seems something to be decided.... That's like the golden question, right?"
If all other schools begin to follow the protocols Duke has between all sports, Ambrosio got the message that whether his, or anyone else's, fall season happens is largely based on the decisions of him and his peers just as much as everyone else.
"Since we're going to be held accountable every week, we could make it work, " Ambrosio said. "We could have all negatives every single time because we are just smart about where we're going, we're masking up, we're keeping our distance.... It's kind of in our hands, which I think is a great thing."
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With the season still roughly a month away from its scheduled start date, Wolfe does believe that collective responsibility can go a long way to making fall sports possible.
"It is up to all of us—student-athletes, coaches, administrators, physicians, families—to do our part to protect the health and safety of our colleagues on campus, and the community," Wolfe wrote. "If we all do these things, then we have a shot at having the kind of fall season that we want, regardless of your favorite sport.”
Of course, despite Wolfe's optimism and input into the situation, the ACC and its members may not find a way to make things work. The NCAA canceled all non-football championships Thursday. So while the ACC decided the same day that its plan is to stay on course with fall seasons, things can always change and are moving very quickly.
Even with the uncertainty that remains, Ambrosio added that many of the athletes on the call just appreciated the mindset and bluntness Wolfe exhibited, a rarity in the world of college sports these days.
"It was kind of cool because we've had many Zoom calls throughout the summer, but the one with [Wolfe], he just kind of put all of it to rest, he's kind of like the top dog," Ambrosio said. "And if anything, we all had a level of, 'Okay, this guy's being 100 percent real with us.' He did say he’s optimistic himself and he had this sense of confidence about what's going on.... He never said we're going to compete or we're going to do this. But it was more like, let me ask you a question and be honest with you, which in this day and age is actually really nice to hear."