Hippocrates never won a college football office pool but "The Father of Medicine” was the smartest guy in the room, even at sit-down dinners hosted by noted philosophers.
“To know is science,” he told fellow Greeks some 460 years before the birth of Christ. “To believe one knows is ignorance.”
Yet Hippocrates surely would find cause-and-effect principles of science slippery if juggling coronavirus concerns with the NBA “bubble,” the Major League Baseball non-bubble, the opening of NFL training camps and how they all fit into a sound plan for a 2020 fall college football season.
To not know, these crazy days, is universal.
Dr. Eugene Hong is a brilliant, experienced, tremendously respected voice in the sports medicine field.
He is MUSC’s chief physician executive.
He is chief medical officer for Clemson athletics and has been a team physician at St. Joseph’s, Drexel and Philadelphia University and for U.S. U-19 national lacrosse teams.
Hong’s work has been cited in the New York Times and on ESPN. He has received funding from the NCAA, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.
Indeed, one of the leading leaders.
But Hong, though arriving via a more learned path, is right there with the rest of us when he says planning for a college football season is “a very complicated issue without an easy answer.”
“There’s no playbook that any of us have as healthcare professionals that can help us here,” Hong said Wednesday. “We’re literally building the airplane as we fly it in that sense. The other term I use in my head is that we’re ‘threading the needle’ here.”
Pressed for a prediction — the chances that a conventional college football season will happen this fall — Hong said “uneducated opinion, 50-50.”
And multiple reasons for that guess.
“Because of all the concerns that you’re aware of and other folks are aware of,” he said. “Obviously, the ACC has made a decision (on Wednesday) to return to fall sports in some fashion and I’m aware that the other Power Five conferences are grappling with the same question. I just can’t predict how they’ll come out with their decisions.”
What Hong does know for sure is that a cautious approach is always best.
Four key COVID tenets
Hong, a 53-year old Boston native who earned his medical degree at Tufts, recently chaired the writing group for the Return to Sport recommendations for U.S. Lacrosse. He serves on the NCAA’s American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Working Group.
He stresses four key sports reopening tenets for youth, high school, college and professional leagues:
1. Test quickly and make a diagnosis quickly
2. Isolate and quarantine people
3. Do contact tracing
4. Protect the vulnerable, focusing on high-risk groups, including those involved in sports
COVID-19 concerns fall in line with other basic responsibilities of a sports medicine doctor.
“We want to get players back onto the field as quickly as possible but also as safely as possible,” said Hong, who came to MUSC Health in March of 2018 and is a Clemson advisor but not a Clemson employee. “We talk about that all the time, whether we’re looking at an injured knee, or rehabbing an ankle or talking about a concussion. I consider that, from a professional standpoint, part of our role.”
In this case, however, the “no playbook” issues for college football include a lack of central leadership and mixed signals from the NBA and MLB.
The Miami Marlins’ recent outbreak, including 16 players and two staff members as of Thursday, has forced cancellation of at least a week’s worth of baseball games.
“I think, in my opinion, the bubble vs. no-bubble approach needs to be on a case-by-case basis and a sport-by-sport basis as well,” Hong said, “including logistical issues and (factoring in) the number of players on a given team and staff.”
Miami Marlins mess
Like most people interested in sports, Hong has mulled the Marlins’ situation and its potential impact on other sports.
“There was a lot of preparation and resources that went into trying to prevent something like that and yet it still occurred,” Hong said. “From just a professional standpoint, that was very interesting, that with all the preparation it still did happen and there was an outbreak.”
The Marlins’ mess gives scientists — and athletic directors, university presidents, conference commissioners and state governors — more information to use in making big coronavirus calls.
“It’s possible that whatever decisions are made, whether at an institutional level or conference level, that there may be mistakes,” Hong said. “And we should acknowledge that and learn from them as we go forward.”
Hong continually emphasized the same word: “safely.”
“Truly, as sports medicine docs, we do want our players and our communities to get back to sports as quickly as possible,” he said, “but as safely as possible. That’s foremost in our minds.”
As for the “50-50” prediction?
Hippocrates would probably agree that to believe one knows any better than that is ignorance.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff