How Northwestern Football Has Avoided COVID-19 Outbreaks So Far


pat fitzgerald

It’s not official yet, but it’s all but certain- Northwestern football is going to its second Big Ten title game in three seasons. At 5-1 on the season, and with just one game left, Iowa is really the only team that could conceivably catch them and the #16 Wildcats have already beat them, so they hold the tie-breaker.

Much more important than the standings, and I cannot stress enough how much more important this is, Northwestern football has managed the COVID-19 pandemic as well, if not better than any other college football team in the country.

As Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald began his weekly press conference Monday morning, the school’s Communications Officer Paul Kennedy broke the news that this week’s game against Minnesota would be cancelled, due to the Gophers’ program suffering a coronavirus outbreak.

It’s the first “COVID out” for the Cats this season. Avoiding COVID cancellation is part diligence, part luck. You can be as safe and conservative as possible and still get it, just like you can be a reckless moron and still escape infection, and well, all other possible outcomes in between.

However, the best thing one can do is wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your distance. We asked Fitz what has been the key to managing the situation )transcript via Inside NU, the SB Nation Northwestern community.)

“First of all, we just talked about our policies and procedures before the season,” he answered.

“We obviously have a unique campus environment that maybe some of our peers do not have with our freshman and sophomores not on campus. I think that contributed to a very low positivity rate here on campus throughout the entire population and within our student body.”

“I think our guys have been very disciplined, and I’m not alluding that anyone else hasn’t, I don’t know anyone else’s situation, but our guys have been incredibly disciplined with their social decisions, and I’m very proud of them for that.”

“We’re going to have a big challenge this week because they’re going to have a little more time on their hands, we’ll finalize our schedule this week, but it sounds to me, talking to our colleagues throughout the country, like most of the problems they have with COVID positives have happened in social situations with weekend nights off.”

You know what social situations on weekend nights means for most people, ESPECIALLY college students/people in their late teens or early 20s.

We’ll just refer to that as “carousing” or “gallavanting,” and then maybe even later perhaps some “canoodling.” And Fitzgerald is absolutely right in that the NU campus is quite unique and different.

He continued:

“So with most of our campus being pretty much empty, I’d like to think that our guys will probably just, I don’t know, if I was them, I’d be eating a lot of food and enjoying watching a lot of football this week. But our guys have finals too, so they have to knock that out too, dominate there, go 1-0 in finals this week and then we’ll get ready to take on our rival next week.”

Yes, going 1-0 vs final exams, or dominating them, is indeed very on brand for Northwestern football.


Added star wide receiver Riley Lees:

“We just had the mindset of go to football, go home. We talked about it all offseason that the most important thing this season is going to be staying healthy and to avoid the social interaction.”

“In terms of staying accountable, I think it’s more of a trust factor, we’re not like texting people like ‘what are you doing right now.’ We believe everyone is on the same page, and we have the same goal in mind, so it’s a lot of trust here. I think with the extra time we just have to literally do the same thing we’ve been doing every single weekend, go to football, go home.

“Hang out with the guys you live with, but limit it to that. And we trust the guys here to do that.”


Defensive back Greg Newsome II chimed in:

“Go to practice, and go home. Literally that’s it. If you do that, wash your hands and stay away from people and always wear a mask, limit the interactions between different teammates, then I mean at that point you’re going to have the greatest likelihood of not getting the virus. So literally, practice, go home.”

Defensive end Earnest Brown IV added to the COVID caution conversation as well:

“To go off of Greg, don’t have a lot of people over, if you do have a certain amount of people over, wear your mask, stay socially distanced. You know, FaceTime works as well if you want to talk to people.”

“FaceTime works as well, if you want to talk to people.”

Yes, FaceTime, Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, this is all our social lives now; sadly. Also, if you’re on POTS (plain old telephone switched) network, well it’s very common for a call that should usually be 15-20 minutes to end up two hours plus.

Now Northwestern football gets an extra week of rest, an added advantage over Illinois for the annual LOLHAT game. They also have the added motivation of trying to rectify the upset loss at Michigan State.

northwestern football tyler lancaster

“After a loss, knowing where we can go, and obviously we can still go some places, but guys are going to be even more motivated to get it back,” added Brown.

“And obviously Illinois is a big state rivalry for us, so I think guys will definitely be ready to go. Mentally, physically, we’ll be ready to go.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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