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Caleb Farley’s opt out: Safety concerns in college football amidst COVID-19, Virginia Tech’s response

Last week, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley made news when he announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 college football season.

Farley isn’t just any player, though. This is the best defensive back in the ACC and one of the top defenders in all of college football. Initially recruited to Virginia Tech out of small-town North Carolina as a wide receiver, Farley moved to the defensive side of the ball and found stardom.

During the 2019 season, the 6-foot-2 Farley led the ACC in passes defended with 16 (1.45 per game), while tying for second in the league with four interceptions. Over the last two seasons, Farley was one of only six ACC players with 50 combined tackles and six interceptions.

Farley’s decision sent further shockwaves, however, when he detailed how he arrived at this conclusion after the past few weeks of workouts at Virginia Tech. In a post at Pro Football Talk, Farley described just how difficult it was for him to come to his decision, but also why he felt it was necessary.

This year at Virginia Tech, at our workouts, I started having deep concerns about staying healthy. Guys were going home, going to Myrtle Beach, coming back to campus, and we weren’t getting tested. We’re all together, working out, close to each other, and you have no real idea who might have it, if anybody might have it. One day I looked around, and we were like 100-deep in our indoor facility, no masks. My concern grew more and more.

Farley’s mother passed away in Jan. 2018 after a battle with breast cancer. While redshirting after an ACL tear in 2017, Farley spent time with his mother as she fought the disease. Farley is very close with his father, who also lives in Blacksburg. In multiple places now, Farley has described how this played a role in his decision — the risk of contracting COVID-19 and passing it to his dad.

The timing of Farley’s announcement — just days before a massive outbreak in the Rutgers football program — is chilling. It’s a reminder that not only is COVID-19 a ruthlessly efficient virus in terms of transmission (this shouldn’t need reminding), but also: what the college sports industrial complex hopes to pull off this fall is incredibly risky.

Virginia Tech initially declined comment after Farley’s writing went live. However, later in the afternoon on Monday, Virginia Tech released a statement from Dr. Mark Rogers — the school’s representative on the ACC’s Medical Advisory Group.

While Dr. Rogers didn’t specifically reference Farley in the statement, he claimed that “the health and welfare of our student-athletes and staff, as well as the Virginia Tech and surrounding communities continues to be our foremost priority.”

Virginia Tech has already removed Farley’s bio page for the school’s athletics website.

As expected, too, Farley won’t be the last high-profile college prospect to opt out of the 2020 season: Tuesday morning, Minnesota star wide receiver Rashod Bateman opted out of the season, citing growing concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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