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North Carolina clears some athletes to resume activities; football returns Monday

The school suspended athletic activities last week because of an “upward trend in positive covid-19 tests on campus” and, as of Saturday, had reported seven coronavirus cases, including in student housing and a fraternity. Students were moved to online-only classes for the rest of the semester, with only athletes allowed to remain on campus and have access to academic support and medical care, among other services.

There has been a nationwide debate over whether schools should resume in-person operations and whether colleges should welcome students back to campus. That debate extended to football, one of the biggest revenue-generators for many schools.

And the decision whether to play football in the fall was just as controversial, especially in the so-called Power Five conferences. The Pacific-12 and Big Ten moved to spring football, with the SEC, ACC and Big 12 proceeding with fall games. North Carolina is an ACC member and is scheduled to open its season Sept. 12 with a home game against Syracuse.

Now, because of the school’s decision, athletic dorms are essentially back after the NCAA cracked down on them in the 1990s. After a number of arrests stemming from incidents in athletic dorms, the NCAA in 1991 announced that schools had five years to do away with athlete-only dorms. Starting in 1996, all residence halls housing athletes had to be at least 51 percent filled with students who weren’t athletes.

But in a pandemic, isolating athletes may be the only way to have sports.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in June. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

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