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Holton Ahlers’ False Positive Costs Him a Game

ECU was without starting quarterback Holton Ahlers, and several other players from contact tracing, due to a false positive.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Had Holton Ahlers been able to play against Navy, ECU would almost certainly have won. Now, you could say that in a lot of situations. If UCF didn’t have so many opt outs would they be 2-2? If Houston had been able to play in the first month of the season, would they be ranked right now? This situation in particular though, ECU must feel like they were robbed.

You see Ahlers didn’t miss the game because he was injured. He hadn’t gotten into trouble and been suspended. He had a positive COVID-19 test. Now, a positive test keeping out a key player is a fact of life in 2020. Except, Ahlers wasn’t positive for the virus. He had a false positive.

If that sounds like a familiar story in college football this week, it’s because Nick Saban was dealt a false positive on Wednesday as well. Saban’s status with the virus was updated almost every hour, and he quickly received three more tests between Wednesday and Saturday night so that he could coach the Alabama-Georgia game from the sidelines.

Naturally, the ECU quarterback got equal treatment to the Alabama coach, right? Right?

Obviously not.

After receiving the positive test, Holton Ahlers and the other ECU starters who were sidelined with those false positives were only able to get one more test. Those tests weren’t enough to clear them to play against Navy, but as players like Ahlers went and got their own tests done they found they should never have been sidelined.

Nothing better personifies the gap between the Power 5 and the Group of 5, the haves and the have nots, than this. A player with a finite number of games in their college career loses one of those games because his program lacks access to testing. A coach in the game’s premier conference? No problem. Anything he needs.

That isn’t to say that Nick Saban doesn’t deserve the best testing and healthcare options in the world. It’s just to say he doesn’t deserve them more than Holton Ahlers or anyone else in college football.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at South Florida Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one thing to decide that some programs are inherently not good enough to play in the College Football Playoff. It’s one thing to only put certain teams on primetime, and shove the others behind paywalls to be ignored. It’s one thing to never talk about certain programs, while repeating the same talking points day after day about others.

That’s fine. Everyone understands that this is the difference between some programs and others. You can debate if it’s right or wrong. You can accept the reality, or fight it. In many ways this has always been the dynamic.

Money dominates all things. College football is not excluded. Teams like Alabama control the money, so they can save their coach in a situation like this. ECU has very little money, leaving coach Mike Houston to say, “It’s certainly something that’s out of my control, out of the kids’ control. You hate that it happens.”

The Pirates don’t have the resources to control the situation here. It’s one thing when that lack of control is in regards to what bowl game you play. It’s another when it is related to the health and wellness of players.