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Saturday, August 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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How one Washington State professor is tracking COVID-19’s impact on college football

Scott Jedlicka is still handing out letter grades and publishing report cards, so in some respects the parameters of his job haven’t changed much since Washington State’s academic semester concluded last spring.

Granted, Jedlicka’s audience has surely expanded.

An assistant professor in WSU’s Sport Management program, Jedlicka has devoted a large chunk of his time in quarantine to the development and maintenance of a website, covidcfb.com, that tracks and analyzes coronavirus data in every region of the country where the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision is played.

Jedlicka’s site is a handy tool for college football aficionados wishing to see how the coronavirus outbreak has afflicted their school – moreso the region surrounding it – and provides data that could theoretically help conference or NCAA decision-makers determine if it’s safe to proceed with a football season in 2020.

“Being in higher ed and being someone that’s positioned to kind of talk about sports from an academic standpoint,” Jedlicka said, “I thought this would be a really good resource for the public, for decision-makers to use in working through this situation.”

In approximately two months, the website has been viewed approximately 5,000 times – or 100 times per day – and Jedlicka, without revealing the particulars, says he has been contacted by an official from a Power Five conference who inquired about the data he was collecting.

“I don’t know how many are (following the website),” Jedlicka said, “but I have had those interactions.”

Jedlicka draws on three categories to generate grades for every FBS and FCS school in America, sorting them by conference. He relies on COVID-19-related data from USAFacts, The COVID Tracking Project and other sources to track three categories: average daily growth rate of cases in the past 14 days, change in percentage of statewide positive tests in the past 14 days and COVID-19 hospitalizations as percentage of hospital capacity.

Points are assigned accordingly – less than 0.5% growth rate of cases would warrant four points, for example – and then added up to determine letter grades. As of Monday afternoon, Jedlicka’s report card reflected data collected through July 19, and reaffirmed what most already know about the college football landscape as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Pacific-12 Conference, only three programs are receiving a “C” or higher, according to Jedlicka’s data. WSU has mostly held steady with a “D” grade since the debut of Jedlicka’s website. The Cougars briefly jumped up to a “C” late last week, but dropped back down Saturday. Colorado is the only Pac-12 member with a “B,” while Oregon State and Washington each checked in with a “C” on Monday.

All 14 Southeastern Conference teams are receiving below a “C” and nine of those are receiving an “F,” while eight of 10 teams in the Big-12 are receiving a “D” and “F.” The Big Ten appears to be in the best shape with 12 of 14 teams receiving an “A” and “B” and nobody receiving worse than “C,” while the Atlantic Coast Conference has perhaps the largest variance with two teams at an “A,” eight with a “C” and four at an “F.”

Even though the Pac-12 announced it would play a conference-only schedule this fall, Jedlicka’s data suggests that doesn’t necessarily provide a safer solution. The Cougars are scheduled to visit Colorado and Oregon State, but also Stanford and UCLA, both located in what would be considered COVID-19 hotspot areas.

“If games are played, I would imagine that it may be something along the lines of limiting travel to in-state or in-region,” Jedlicka said. “Just because … when you have a situation like you have in Arizona right now for instance, it’s really hard to make the case that we need to fly 100-plus people down there to play a football game. So, if things do move forward, I can see maybe we do sort of a situation where we (WSU) play UW and the Oregon schools. I don’t know, that’s speculation at best at this point.”

On the other hand, Jedlicka acknowledged conference-only scheduling allows for uniformity when it comes to COVID-19 testing and other safety protocols.

“We can all agree we’re going to adhere to these particular testing schedules and these particular quarantine rules and so on and so forth,” Jedlicka said. “Which is maybe more difficult if you’re talking about WSU vs. Idaho, WSU vs. Boise State or something.”

Even though smaller regions like Whitman and Latah County project only 32 new cases in the next 14 days, their growth rate has climbed substantially, by 2.38%, according to the website. Eastern Washington has a “D” on Jedlicka’s scale while Idaho was recently downgraded to an “F.” Jedlicka has stopped analyzing data for the five FCS conferences that have canceled fall sports within the past 10 days: the Colonial Athletic Association, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Ivy League, Southwestern Athletic Conference and Patriot League.

Jedlicka encountered an obstacle that caused him to rework the grading formula used on covidcfb.com. Until recently, he used hospital capacity by state as his third piece of criteria – a figure that was easily obtainable on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Starting last Wednesday, however, Donald Trump’s administration directed U.S. hospitals report capacity numbers to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), rather than the CDC, therefore making them unavailable to the public.

“It’s frustrating, to say the least; for the purposes of this website, estimating current hospital capacity becomes much more difficult (but not impossible). It’s also yet another example of how politics can impact sports in weird and unanticipated ways,” Jedlicka wrote in a blog post on the site.

Later , he explains his updated method, writing “the new metric that is used for the report cards is simply ‘current hospitalizations’ divided by ‘total licensed hospital beds’ for each state (if states were better about reporting COVID-related ICU usage, I would be tempted to use those numbers instead). As you can see on the home page, I’ve set the scoring for this metric at 5% increments.”

Jedlicka is entering his seventh year at WSU .

Not unlike other professors and university administrators, Jedlicka fears the ramifications of a large coronavirus outbreak in a small, isolated community such as Pullman, where spreading potential is high and hospital capacity is low.

“It’s certainly no secret that WSU brings a lot of people to the area, brings a lot of students to the area, so I think that’s kind of an obvious problem,” he said. “ I know some people are at least sort of holding out hope for in-person attendance at football games. I think that just sort of adds to the issue.”

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