However, the more than 6,600 cases that have been reported in college athletic departments also show that, for all the measures taken, bringing people together almost inevitably leads to the spread of the virus.
A recent study about college campuses in general, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seems to confirm that. Counties with large universities that returned at the start of the school year with remote learning ultimately experienced a nearly 20 percent decline in cases over a six-week span. Those with large schools that returned to in-person instruction saw a more than 50 percent spike.
“It’s pretty compelling evidence that gathering people from all over the country in small spaces is going to have an impact,” Bachynski said. “It’s not just the game itself.”
Next up is basketball season.
There, the disruptions have been just as persistent as they have been in football, with hundreds of games having been canceled or postponed and programs regularly halting their activities after positive tests. The Villanova men’s team paused last week for the third time since it began practicing, postponing three games after two players tested positive. The team was just getting back its coach, Jay Wright, who tested positive the day after Christmas.
“That’s just the state of the world right now, and we all understand that,” N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert said in an interview on Saturday night.
“When I see games get canceled because somebody is exercising caution, that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing,” he added. “I don’t see a game getting canceled or rescheduled as a failure. I see it as somebody doing the right thing and saying, ‘Nope. You know what? Too risky. You’ve got a case. Let’s just stop for a minute, let’s deal with that and then move on.’”
The goal is to move on until March, when the cash-cow N.C.A.A. tournaments will be played — not in various far-flung cities as usual, but in one locale each: Indianapolis for the men and possibly San Antonio for the women. Survive and advance it is, then.