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R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.

USA TODAY

To avoid local public health restrictions during the pandemic, San Jose State University last week made a drastic move.

It decided to bus its football team 325 miles north to Humboldt County, where the Spartans started practicing on another college campus indefinitely while completing classwork online.

The relocation is designed to let the team have larger practices in a less restrictive county. Such preparation was “imperative” as the team’s season opener approached on Oct. 24, athletics director Marie Tuite said in a statement.

The team’s home county saw it differently.

“We are very disappointed to see any team going outside the county to circumvent a process that was put in place to ensure the safety of its players and staff,” Santa Clara County said in a statement to USA TODAY.

Such is the state of disruption these days in college football. It’s all over the map, including by bus.   

Several leagues are trying to come back this month and next after initially deciding it was safer to wait until 2021, including those with members that still hadn’t been cleared for regular practices under local health orders as of Wednesday, such as Stanford and Colorado.

Lower-profile leagues are sticking with their decision not to play this year, such as the Ivy League. Other major leagues with large followings in the South and Texas are playing more like normal, with some limited stadium attendance of around 15,000 or more. On Monday, LSU even said it would no longer require a medical wellness check to enter the stadium. 

“We’re living in a big experiment right now,” said Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease expert at Stanford who consulted with the Pac-12 Conference on COVID-19. “We don’t know enough about (the novel coronavirus), and we don’t really understand what it does to young people.”

So which is the right approach? What is the big deal anyway, considering that hospitalizations are quite rare for young infected players? And was it a coincidence that most of the nation’s elite research universities either still aren’t playing this year or took so long to commit to playing in 2020? Or that only one major team west of Texas is playing games right now (BYU)?

USA TODAY asked public health experts about this now that major college football is coming back in all 10 major leagues. Their answers belie any sense of normalcy that might come with the return of Big Ten and Pac-12 football on Oct. 24 and Nov. 6, respectively.

“The disjointed response in college football is a reflection of a complete lack of a coordinated national response,” said Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University. “College football is pretty much like the rest of the country. Whether it should be played is a very complicated question.”

Texas Tech’s Raider Red wears a mask during an NCAA college football game against Houston