TODD AARON GOLDEN: Big Ten dad here, equal access to testing for all students, not just athletes

AP fileBack in action: Indiana University cheerleaders, band members and dancers greet the football team onto the field during introductions before a game against Northwestern on Nov. 2, 2019, at Memorial Stadium.

On Wednesday, the official word came down. The Big Ten Conference decided to go back on the decision they made in mid-August that went back on the opposite decision made earlier in August. Football will be played this fall at Big Ten campuses.

I'm sincerely happy for the football players at the Big Ten schools and fans of Big Ten schools too, of which, I have been the fan of one my entire life.

Oh, and, proudly wearing my new hat as a Big Ten Dad? I'm thrilled that my child will get to experience the thrill of Big Ten football as a student. You can't beat it.

One of the reasons why the conference flip-flopped from throwing the red to green flag on football were advances in testing and cardiac knowledge.

Few of those "advances" were actually specified, but there's one testing leap that college commissioners and school athletic directors at all levels of collegiate athletics are counting on. Not just for football, but to get all sports off the ground, and with fans back in the venues too.

Quicker and cheaper testing technology is coming down the pike. Access to these tests, and daily testing of athletes, were cited as one reason why the Big Ten can attempt to play football in October.

Whether it's a saliva or a swab test, a quick-result test would, indeed, be a game-changer in several different ways. It's what everyone who participates in or follows college sports should be rooting for in addition to an eventual vaccine.

First, the tests are obviously quicker, perhaps a turnaround time of a few minutes, but they're also far cheaper.

One of the things that shut down college sports was the prohibitive costs of testing the way we currently do it, which is a comparatively laborious and expensive process. Schools at the mid-major level, like Indiana State, simply can't afford to add six-figure testing fees to already squeezed budgets to test players on a regular basis. These quick-result tests would solve that problem.

Since they're cheaper and quicker, the tests can also be used on someone who doesn't have symptoms. This will catch asymptomatic cases, which will limit transmission that we can't currently detect easily. 

If they work as intended, the rollout of these tests will be a game-changer for everyone as we will have the capacity to isolate all manner of cases. That will allow fans to come back to stadiums, restaurants, bars, etc., as they will know whether they're positive or not and they can isolate. 

Wonderful, right? Hopefully it will be, but as we rush to get back to normal, I have one of those sticky, moral questions to pose to the Big Ten.

If access to quick testing technology is good enough for athletes, why isn't it good enough for all students attending Big Ten universities?

Right now, there are massive case loads at several Big Ten universities. Among other things, Indiana University currently has the majority of its Greek community on lockdown. The University of Wisconsin has two hi-rise dorms isolated-in-place for two weeks and has gone to temporary remote learning as it has had 2,160 overall cases with spread evident in the community at-large.

Big Ten universities aren't alone in having COVID-19 problems, nearly all colleges have had their own challenges.

Quick and economical testing is needed campus-wide, not just something reserved for student-athletes. If the Big Ten, or any other conference, is going to play football, it should also guarantee that it's entire student population has access to the same quick tests the athletes have. No university should be creating a privileged class within its confines.

Besides, it's the only way to truly come to terms with the overall problem anyway. Athletes can isolate all they want, but as we've seen with stoppages at nearly half of the Big Ten's schools, there are no guarantees athletes can be kept safe when conditions on-campus aren't stabilized. 

How could it be paid for? Perhaps the media windfall the athletic departments are counting on from the Big Ten's media contracts to maintain their largess should be partly reserved to pay for campus-wide testing once athletic department employees are taken care of. 

Win-win as far as I'm concerned, the popularity of athletics being used to serve a good purpose for the whole campus environment at-large. Equal testing for all students, not just athletes. All for one and one for all.

Seems reasonable, and yet, I'm not yet seeing it floated publicly.

So let's get very real for a moment and allow me to play the role of Big Ten Dad again. Justify to me, as a father, why an athlete gets priority to better testing over that of my child who attends the same school?

Tell me to my face, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, Big Ten administrators, coaches, etc., why athletes deserve access to better testing ahead of my kid or any other student? I'm a father first and foremost, well before I'm a sports fan or sportswriter. My kid is in good standing with tuition paid. What makes her have to wait in line?

Even if I didn't have a kid at a Big Ten school, the immorality of a privileged class having access to testing is wrong when this is a public health issue that concerns everyone on campus.

If you think I'm being overwrought? If you're a parent, look at your child, no matter what age they are, and ask yourself if you'd accept this inequity for your children? No parent in their right mind would accept it.

So, Big Ten universities, I challenge you to do the right thing. Make the testing you're making available for athletes, available for all of your students on day one of the resumed Big Ten football season. Do that? And I'll be right there in your corner engaged in the games like I've always been. 

But if you don't? You're telling me my child doesn't matter as much as your student-athletes do in the teeth of a public health crisis — which is morally unconscionable. No father would accept that just for four hours of Saturday entertainment.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.

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