NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin

In the week leading up to a Power Five conference game last November, a prominent program went on the road with a plane full of players infected with the flu.

"We didn't tell [the opponent] who all was sick and who wasn't," the athletic director of that school told CBS Sports. "You just don't do that. I don't even know if we put it out there [publicly]."

So what will compel programs or coaches to release information regarding which players they have available in the COVID-19 era?

"You would like to know who is not playing," that AD said. "I don't know if there is anything morally compelling to make us have to do that. Not playing people you know to be sick is the morally compelling part of it."

That's where part of the 2020 college football season could become a thick ethical mess. Coaches by nature aren't fountains of information. Gamesmanship regarding who's playing typically precedes games.

This is way different. This is (possibly) coopting the coronavirus knowledge for wins.

"My concern is what's going to drive this is not science but that -- as Mike Gundy said -- they need to run money," said Ted Tatos, a University of Utah economist.

Nobody is saying coaches will play athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19. However, the example above is disconcerting.

Programs around the country opened for voluntary workouts this month. With an outbreak of positive tests, it's already time to ask whether college football opened too early.

Unlike the NFL, college coaches aren't compelled to share weekly injury reports. Some do out of simple transparency. Others protect player availability like it's a state secret.

"That's also why more people will close practice," one veteran Power Five coach said.

Half of the 66 FBS schools responding to an Associated Press inquiry this month said they would not disclose how many of their players test positive.

Suddenly, the information being trafficked isn't just a bad knee or a sore arm. It's information with an impact can draw a direct line to more than 120,000 U.S. deaths. The most important information for game week may be who has contracted -- and how long an individual player has been recovering from -- the coronavirus.

"We are not telling anyone who -- or how many -- UNC football players test positive," a North Carolina athletic official said. "We would simply say that they are out right before the game starts."

Imagine coaches exchanging what would amount to lineup cards on a Friday night -- similar to how baseball managers do at home plate preceding games. That would be a huge shift in philosophy for the likes of Michigan's Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines coach won't so much as allow his two-deep depth chart to be distributed to media in the press box on game days.

When the subject of national injury reports was raised a few years ago, it was quickly shot down by coaches. From 2010-17, ACC coaches released injury reports two days before games. That practice was discontinued two years ago.

Staring down the barrel of worldwide pandemic, should coaches everywhere reconsider? It's not known whether the NCAA could get involved cases like this regarding potential competitive advantages.

"We're not going to play [opponents] if they don't tell us [about COVID-19 positives]," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We're not putting anybody in jeopardy on our sideline or anybody else."

Privacy laws keep schools from releasing names of those infected. The 24-year Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits doctors from sharing your medical records. HIPAA includes public entities like universities.

Any individual names you read at this point will probably come from media reports or the athletes themselves.

Before it ever gets to that point, programs must first be accountable to their universities, conferences and local health officials in reporting COVID-19 positives. Beyond that, it will be up to individual schools to release numbers. In addition to North Carolina, Missouri, TCU and others have already said they will not release the number of positive tests.

"Do you think when you ask me what we're going to do on third downs, I'm going to tell you exactly what the plays are?" Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz asked reporters recently.

Bottom line: Coaches are paid to win, even during a pandemic.

"Let's be honest, this is the type of year you're going to need any advantage you can [get]," said TCU AD Jeremiah Donati. "You may be down a few guys, but if you can spring it on your opponent that, 'Hey, we're playing the second-string quarterback you've never seen who is a runner and not a thrower,' it doesn't have any health or safety impact.

"I can imagine a coach saying he wants to keep that information proprietary."

Hiding a flu outbreak is one thing. Playing lineup games with the coronavirus requires another level of ethics.

"[Reporting positives is] even greater than an injury report, right?" said Jeff Hafley, Boston College's new coach. "It's not like we're hiding a quarterback who might have a bad hamstring or a receiver who can't play until the last minute."

Hafley is waiting for guidelines for reporting positives. So is the rest of the country.

The implications go beyond simple player availability. Las Vegas bookmakers always seem to know who is out when setting the line. Will the same information be available to their spies when players test positive?

Should it be available?

"I'm not saying somebody might not be gaming the system," one AD said. "… If you don't have your starting running back or starting quarterback for a game or two, that's just going to be part of it."

There are dozens of different COVID-19 tests. The turnaround for results is about 1-3 days. FBS conferences are still determining whether they will all align on the frequency of testing.

Complicating the issue is nonconference games against FCS teams. It's doubtful whether schools in lower divisions can even afford to test. Kansas State AD Gene Taylor has speculated that some FBS schools might subtract the cost of testing from the game guarantee that week for an FCS opponent.

"We have not been testing for coronavirus," said South Dakota State AD Justin Sell. "That hasn't been part of our deal. If testing is needing to be part of that ability to play, we've got to work within our state … and figure out the financial impacts of that."

The Jackrabbits play at Nebraska in Week 3.

"The coaches are as nervous about this as anybody," Kansas State AD Gene Taylor said.

They should be. It's not just about those who test positive. It's also about those who they infect. Kansas State is in the middle of a two-week pause on workouts after 13 players tested positive for COVID-19.

"This issue is not going to be if you have positives," Donati said. "It's going to be how many and if you're going to be able to manage or control an outbreak."