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Photo by Lia Musgrave, TexAgs
Texas A&M Football

Bjork sounds hopeful tone for 2020 season as nation eyes recovery measures

April 21, 2020

NOTE: Video of Ross Bjork’s teleconference was provided to TexAgs by Texas A&M’s athletic department.

With a list of concerns growing like the beard on his face, Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork remained relatively optimistic for the upcoming football season.

The coronavirus pandemic — which has now been blamed for over 176,000 deaths worldwide and almost 45,000 in the United States — has threatened the 2020 college football season.

Additionally, the oil crash — which brought prices to historic lows — has damaged the Texas economy and figures to decrease donations to A&M’s athletic department substantially.

Still, the usually clean-shaven Bjork, now sporting a full beard, appeared bullish on the 2020 football season, whether it be delayed, played without fans, excluding some parts of the country or any other issues that might arise.

"Each day that goes by, we have some certainty,” Bjork said. “We have some clarity, which gives us optimism that we’re reaching maybe the peak of all of this, whether it's locally or regionally or as a country.

“Each day that goes by, we have some certainty. We have some clarity, which gives us optimism that we’re reaching maybe the peak of all of this, whether it's locally or regionally or as a country.”
- Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork

“So, I think with each passing day, if we get more good news, (coronavirus) testing becomes more available, we can start to look at what it might operate under in terms of how we return to activity, play games, go to school and all those things. Definitely optimistic for sure.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the number of fatalities in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., “appears to be slowing.”

Meanwhile, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas have lifted some of the quarantine measures that were instated in March.

Also, return to work protests have arisen in North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan.

However, there is no firm date for when a decision on the 2020 season must be made or who will make that decision. President Donald Trump has said governors will decide when their states will begin re-opening.

But any progress toward re-opening is at least a small indication that the 2020 season will take place. A&M is scheduled to kick off the 2020 season on September 5 against Abilene Christian at Kyle Field.

“We see Georgia move forward with some reopening. We saw what’s happening our state,” Bjork said. “It’s going to vary. There’s not on single source at this point and time that’s going to say, ‘On this date, everyone returns.’

“We still have time. It’s way too early to make absolutes on anything at this point and time.”

Bjork made it clear he wants NCAA teams to play a full 12-game schedule in full stadiums but said he’d be open to the idea of playing games without fans if that is absolutely necessary and players agree.

Lia Musgrave, TexAgs
While it would not be ideal, Ross Bjork said football would be played in an empty Kyle Field, if necessary.

“Would we play without fans? Of course,” he said. “If that’s what the players want to do and we could make it safe. We would operate that way. But that’s not ideal. That’s not what the experience is all about, mainly for our players but also for the communities that we live in.”

There is also a question of whether the season could proceed without some regions of the country participating. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said no concerts or sporting events would be allowed in his city until the spring of 2021.

Would a college football season be played without UCLA and USC or perhaps the entire Pac-12 participating?

“We know what the mayor of Los Angeles has talked about,” Bjork said. “That would impact USC and UCLA. I believe Alabama plays USC to open the season. What if Alabama is ready and USC is not? What happens there? I think all those different scenarios you have to look at.

"That’s where you really hope the conference commissioners really come together at the Power Five level, but also the FBS level, that there is some uniformity on how we return to activity and how we return to play.”

A&M, which has one of the largest athletic budgets in the nation, would need to play a full schedule with fans, especially because of the steep decline in the price of oil, which fell below zero on Monday. Several of A&M’s prominent donors and hundreds of season-ticket holders are in the oil business or at least affected by it.

“That’s obviously devastating news on our economy. We need to understand that and be ready to react whenever that may be.”
- Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork

“I don’t know how you get the price of a commodity below zero. I don’t know enough about the economics of that to fully understand it,” Bjork said. “But obviously, it has an impact. We get it. That’s why we’ve been in constant dialogue with donors and season ticket holders. We want to be as flexible with them as possible, whatever that impact might be.

“That’s obviously devastating news on our economy. We need to understand that and be ready to react whenever that may be.”

Bjork acknowledged revenue would decrease, which will create a need to cut expenses. He did not say what those cuts might be.

Coaches at Syracuse, Missouri, Oregon State and Washington State, among other programs, have taken voluntary pay cuts. Bjork said he has not asked A&M coaches — like football coach Jimbo Fisher, who earns $7.5 million annually — to take cuts. He indicated that could be a possibility, but seemed to suggest it was unlikely.

“We’ve looked at different models in terms of cost-cutting revenue,” Bjork said. “That would be one of them. We haven’t approached anybody. We haven’t looked at that specifically. It would be on the list of things.

"You don’t want to impact your people. I don’t really care how much they make. The first thing you want to do is protect your people. That’s what we would look to do.”

Some colleges have considered cutting some sports teams from their athletic programs. Bjork said A&M has not considered that.

“We have not put that on the table,” he said. “We do not anticipate putting that on the table.”

Discussion from...

Bjork sounds hopeful tone for 2020 season as nation eyes recovery measures

3,308 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 12 mo ago by mattpoling90
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Great read as usual Olin. My opinion as a physician as to why I think we'll be in Kyle Field on September5th:
The Beagle '90
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Trust me, I'm a Doctor. From

Why You'll Be in Kyle Field on September 5th
Last month you read here why we were not overreacting and that letting this virus "run its course" would have had disastrous consequences for vulnerable people and our entire health care system. By now, most communities in America would have begun looking like New York City at Passover and "shelter in place" orders would have just been a virtual sermon to the choir. The Beagle stands by that call 100%
You also read why the stock market was overreacting, Though I certainly did not expect to see a 30% rally off the lows in just one month. Such is the power of system 2's methodical reasoning over system 1's reactive fear--but it will be much tougher sledding from here as we work through the massive economic contagion.
We are seeing signs that calculated risk taking is gaining the upper hand across most of the political spectrum, with the exception of the far left, which remains quarantined in a dystopian fantasy world. Mass die-offs from ventilator shortages, an overtaxed medical system and an unresponsive federal government exists only in the news media. Not sure where we will store all these excess ventilators now that they appear to be a largely ineffective treatment for Covid-19.
No, ventilators are no panacea. Nor would be some universal weekly testing regimen that has never nor could ever exist anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, we have tested more people per capita than South Korea who was supposedly the testing poster child.
So, in no particular order, let me share some thoughts on why I believe you will be comfortably seated (or standing if needed to suit up, of course) in Kyle Field for the on schedule kick-off.

Covid-19 is not as deadly as we feared. From the beginning, we've been looking at the case fatality rate of around 2% of the general population. This figure is meaningless, because the denominator was comprised mostly of those patients who were sick enough to present for testing. The important number was the infection fatality rate, but without a reliable antibody test, we weren't able to assess that accurately. Now that we're starting to, we are getting a clearer picture of a true infection rate that may be more than 10 times the known infection rate. Studies I have seen showing even higher infection prevalence suffer from problems with false positives and patient selection bias. Thus the IFR (which is the death rate for the entire population that contracted the infection) would be 1/10th of the CFR. (April 21 update: at first glance the Los Angeles County Covid-19 study was a better randomized sample and even allowing for their false positive rate, shows that the true infection rate could be 50 times higher than the confirmed cases. Thus the IFR could be 1/50th of the CFR). Note, this does not mean we are anywhere near achieving "herd immunity" yet, just that this virus is even less likely to harm young, healthy people than we thought. Meanwhile the Swedes, who did not shut down, are already seeing a benefit from so many of their population already being immune.
We have adequate testing now. From a public health surveillance standpoint, Dr Giroir tells us that the public health system only needs 3-4 million tests per month to identify hot spots and assess whether and where new cases are rising. We have in excess of that capacity already. That means 99% of us won't be tested this month, and that's ok. A negative test today tells you nothing about how contagious you might be next week. When there is a clinical need for testing, I haven't been told "no" a single time. But we must move from a "point of care" testing mindset to a public health mindset. A one time antibody test may be something you will be getting in the foreseeable future, but keep in mind, in a community with a CFR of less than 0.1%, it's likely that only about 1% of us are immune at this point. That thing in February that you thought was just a cold? It was just a cold. You are not immune. By the way, if you noted in The Eagle a 100 fold drop in the rate of local Covid-19 cases a couple of weeks ago, it's because I had to correct The Eagle for repeatedly reporting the cases per 10,000 as the percent of 100 in their front page stories--not intentional, but not helpful.
We have treatment options. Viruses are notoriously difficult and usually unnecessary to treat. But chloroquine, several antivirals, and convalescent patient plasma are showing promise for select high risk patients. There will be no silver bullet treatment, but having some proven therapies should give us some peace of mind.
Vaccination will be here sooner than you think. Probably not by September 5th, but I would not be surprised if we start large scale vaccinations before the end of this calendar year. Every vaccine expert I've read says 12 to 18 months. But this is a new paradigm where regulatory compliance will not stand in the way of sound science. Given the possibility of seasonality with coronavirus, we will be going to war this winter with the vaccines we have, even if they might not be the ideal vaccine we want. This will get messy and no vaccine is likely to offer the same level of protection as natural immunity.
Good business is good health. One in seven Americans was fired or furloughed in the past month and we know from previous recessions that job losses lead to more deaths and poorer health outcomes for a variety of reasons. This virus, which is almost entirely a threat to baby boomers and older, could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide and the impoverishment of tens of millions more from the mitigation strategies being implemented. The current treatment plan, in too high of a dose for too long, would certainly be worse than the disease.
America's young and yet born are already making their contribution in the form of 2.6 trillion dollars (and counting) in new debt. Future school closures anywhere from pre-K to post-doc, for a disease that almost entirely spares students, should not even be a consideration now in a society which places any value on children and their education. Which means sports, including the college football bell cow will be back. Some suggest that we may not kick-off until the spring, but unless there is a rush to judgment in the next two months, I don't think that will be necessary.
People have short memories. Yes, even for once a century epidemics. Don't believe me? When was the last time you worried about terrorism? Like 9/11, this will have some lasting effects on our daily lives (future blog), but as much effort as there will be to prevent the "next pandemic", this one will soon be seen as a singular event.
People are (eventually) rational
. If you need to be in Orlando for business you're going to fly. If you're taking your family of 6, you're probably going in the minivan, even though you love your family and it is 100 times more dangerous. On your way, you will see most vehicles driving about the 70mph speed limit, even though we could virtually eliminate crash deaths by all driving 30mph. This is because we collectively plug all these variables into an amazing computer known as the mind and make a rational decision that balances safety, time, quality of life and money. This allows us to spend 4 days in Disneyland (or world, I couldn't keep them straight even when I was there) instead of just 2--or not being able to afford to go at all. We aren't being reckless, we're taking calculated risks. Most of us just want valid information and the freedom to act on that information. Very soon, we will be past the peek risk of mass deaths from overwhelming the health care system. Should such risks recur, we will adjust course accordingly. But in a republican democracy such as ours, we the people, through our representatives and protected by our Constitution, will be the ultimate deciders of our fate. There will be no "leave your house" order. No one has to go back to work or attend a football game. And those of us who choose to may have to get our temperature checked on the way in or wear a 12th Mask. I don't know. But I know we won't be acting out of a fear of the unknown for very much longer.

The Beagle '90
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