Swine Flu: Handshake Halt Hardly Helps
The NCAA has recommended volleyball programs suspend traditional pre- and post-match handshakes in an effort to limit the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, a measure health experts say will do to little to safeguard athletes against the global outbreak.
Volleyball and wrestling are the only NCAA sports in which handshakes between opposing athletes are mandated. The volleyball rules committee made the handshake optional last week. (The wrestling rules committee has not addressed the issue because the season has not begun.)
"The committee based its decision on continued monitoring of the H1N1 flu outbreak and feedback from member institutions," the NCAA's Erik Christiansen said. "Depending on the progression of the outbreak, adjustments could be made in the best interests for the health and well-being of student-athletes who are competing in NCAA championships."
Vanderbilt University H1N1 expert William Schaffner said the handshake suspension seemed far-fetched. Neil Fishman, director of health care, epidemiology and infection control at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was even more skeptical.
"I just think it's a bad decision and is not based on what we know about the science of the virus," Fishman said. "There will be influenza in the community, and there will be no higher risk (of contracting the virus) walking down the street, riding a bus or going to a movie."
Fishman, who said his children still shook hands after their youth soccer games, suggested the NCAA provide hand cleansers in locker rooms and recommend all athletes be vaccinated.
"That would be a reasonable intervention," he said. "We know a good deal about (H1N1), and it is behaving much like a normal influenza. And we're talking about young, healthy people playing a sport, not people at a higher risk."
The Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference has extended the handshake suspension to all fall sports. Division I Conference USA and Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference are leaving it up to member schools.
Three-time Division I women's volleyball champ Nebraska of the Big 12 will continue as before. "I've talked to our team doctor and the health department, and we'll just try to be proactive in our normal routine," coach John Cook said. "We will provide antibacterial soaps and gels . . . and just stress keeping your immune systems strong."
Rookie Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who leads the Volunteers into Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday as 28 1/2-point underdogs, tried to recruit Florida quarterback Tim Tebow while a Southern California assistant. "He recruited me hard; we had a great relationship," Tebow said. "He's a good recruiter; I think he's a good coach. I think he's done a good job at Tennessee."
But Tebow, whose Gators have won the last four meetings, would be happy if Kiffin refrained from more comments about Tebow's current coach, Urban Meyer. Kiffin accused Meyer in the offseason of a recruiting violation, which turned out not to be true.
"I don't like anyone talking about Coach Meyer. I try to not let it affect me, although I always have Coach Meyer's back in anything because I know what type of person he is and I know what he believes in," Tebow said.