Illinois’ LB Eifler questions college football season

Senior+Milo+Eifler+plays+in+a+spring+game+on+April+13%2C+2019.

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Milo Eifler plays in a spring game on April 13, 2019.

By Carson Gourdie, Assistant Sports Editor

As the football season approaches, more and more collegiate players are asked to return to their respective campuses to get ready for the season opener, albeit coronavirus cases are going through the roof. 

States like Florida are consistently hitting over 5,000 new cases daily and even hit 10,000 as of yesterday. Arizona, California and Texas have begun to roll back their reopening for the economy. The Clemson football team currently has 37 players with the virus. Despite this, however, programs all across the country are coming back and getting ready to play in front of millions of television viewers who are craving something to cheer for. 

But when Illinois senior linebacker Milo Eifler is asked when he would feel comfortable coming back regarding he and his teammates’ safety, he has one question. 

“Is there a vaccine?,” Eifler asked.

Unfortunately no, Milo, and there won’t be one until 2021 most likely. 

On July 1, Eifler came out on Twitter and exposed the elephant in the room.

“I understand that people want to see us play this season but in reality how can a team full of 100+ student athletes fully function during a pandemic. Trust, my teammates and I want to play. But schools around the country are showing blatant disregard for student athletes,” Eifler tweeted.

Across the college football world, players are beginning to speak up, because they have concerns. They want to know why they are being trotted back to campus despite Dr. Anthony Facuci’s doubts that football can’t be played without playing in a bubble.

Eifler has a valid point. According to a New York post article, Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois, projects that 30 to 50% of college football players will contract the virus, and five to seven players will die. 

“I guarantee someone is going to die,” Dr. Jacobson said to the New York Post. “The virus does not discriminate.”

From a practical standpoint, it can seem like a stretch to have a college football season like any other year. Instead of having to keep track of 13 athletes on a basketball team, coaches will have to keep track of 105 players. These student-athletes still have to attend class, albeit most will be online. But players are students, too. They want to have social lives and not just be trapped in a single dorm during a 14 week regular season. Are they banned from seeing friends and girlfriends not associated with being on the football team? Are parents discouraged from seeing their children? Are coaches going to be held to the same standard and stay away from their families for three plus months?

The fact is, Dr. Jacobson provides a valid and realistic claim that a good chunk of the players will contract the virus. 

It’s worth noting that Eifler is not opposed to playing. As a football player, Eifler wants to put on the football pads and get out and play his senior season. However, that doesn’t mean Eifler wants to blindly follow the herd of sheep into potentially unsafe conditions, and he wants to know how the NCAA and athletic departments will protect the players, even away from the football field. 

“(Schools) know there is a pandemic on hand,” Eifler said. “How is this going to be better than working out at home? We could have had 10 guys a week until the beginning of August. Those are the question like, “Why didn’t we figure this out a month ago instead of just now.”

“This is my last season. Some schools, like Stanford, they’ve allowed a scholarship to remain even if there’s no football season all year. I haven’t done my research, but I don’t know if the Big Ten is going to allow that or the SEC or ACC. Little questions like that; I want to make sure we are protected.”

Eifler, though, isn’t just critiquing the current system. The senior linebacker has proposed a method of playing games similar to the NHL and NBA. 

“We could have a neutral site for the Big Ten,” Eifler said. “All the teams that end up playing, we have a game Thursday, Friday, Saturday instead of us traveling all over the place we could meet up at one place that we know was cleaned.” 

One method of avoiding the worse of the coronavirus and still having a season is picking up some steam: a postponement until spring. Recently, it’s been reported that the Ivy League is seriously considering the move with a seven game, conference only season. But with regards to the FCS Ivy League, they do not participate in the postseason like FBS and most of the players aren’t thinking about the NFL. Eifler raised a laundry list of doubts if the Big Ten copied the Ivy League. 

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but when it comes to bowl games and playoff pictures and how many regular season scheduled games will we have and does it come into conflict with any pro days or the combine or the draft,” Eifler said. “That’s the question I have. I would love to play in some 80 degree weather in Illinois as opposed to 10 degrees, but are those questions going to be addressed.”

In just over 60 days, Illinois is slated to play host to Illinois State. However, given the recent outbreak in cases across the nation and potentially having a second wave coming toward the country in the fall, it’s fair to question if having a football season is truly realistic. As Eifler stated, he is an athlete who wants to put on the Orange and Blue jersey and represent his school. But this is a once in a lifetime global pandemic that makes him wonder if entertainment is more important than the safety of his peers and their loved ones.  

“This isn’t about Illinois,” Eifler said. “I just want safety to be the main protocol.”

“Some guys are staying at home with grandmas and grandpas that are high risked. Are they risking their lives just so they can play another season or collect some scholarship money when they have a whole family to think about?”

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