Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart linked to the coronavirus, has reportedly been found in approximately one-third of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for COVID-19.

Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, said Monday at a State College area school board of directors meeting that cardiac MRI scans found the condition in the conference's athletes, the Centre Daily Times reports.

The possibility of athletes getting myocarditis played a large role in the decision of both the Big Ten and Pac-12 to cancel fall sports.

“When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles (are) inflamed,” Sebastianelli said. “And we really just don’t know what to do with it right now. It’s still very early in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten’s decision to sort of put a hiatus on what’s happening.”

Much has been made of the decision by Big Ten chancellors and presidents to postpone the football season with an 11-3 vote. The conference had said it hoped to play the season in 2021, though there is new momentum for football to start sometime later this year.

The death rate among college-aged students who are diagnosed with the coronavirus is small, which President Donald Trump has echoed in calls for college football to be played this season. Long-term effects, however, have given decision-makers reason to keep student-athletes off the field during the pandemic.

The significance of the scan results is up for debate because myocarditis can be caused by other viruses.

“You could have a very high-level athlete who’s got a very superior VO2 max and cardiac output who gets infected with COVID and can drop his or her VO2 max and cardiac output just by 10 percent, and that could make them go from elite status to average status,” Sebastianelli said. “We don’t know that. We don’t know how long that’s going to last. What we have seen is when people have been studied with cardiac MRI scans — symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID infections — is a level of inflammation in cardiac muscle that just is alarming.”

The Big 12, ACC and SEC are continuing plans to move forward with the 2020 football season.

Penn State Football
KJ Hamler #1 of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on with fans during the second half of the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Beaver Stadium on November 30, 2019 in State College, Pennsylvania. Scott Taetsch/Getty Images