Vanderbilt kicker Oren Milstein opts out of season amidst COVID-19 concerns

Milstein, a graduate transfer from Columbia University, is the first Vanderbilt student-athlete to opt-out of the fall season.

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(Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin)

Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, many college football players around the country have decided to opt out of the upcoming 2020 season due to concerns about the virus.

On Monday, Vanderbilt kicker Oren Milstein posted on Twitter and Instagram that he was opting out of the 2020 football season due to the uncertain long-term effects of the virus.

Milstein, a transfer from Columbia University, is reportedly the first SEC football player to opt out of fall athletic competition, but he said he does not believe that he will be the only SEC student-athlete to do so.

“I think there will be more people who opt out solely because I think people are still working through their decisions on whether to play or not,” Milstein said. “It’s a really difficult decision for many people, and I got to a place where I was comfortable with my decision, so I decided to make it.” 

He continued, “I think the fact that there have been a few people who have made the decision to opt out [around the country] will empower those who have been feeling that way but haven’t felt like they have the voice to opt out.”

At time of publication, at least nine other major college football players have opted out of the fall season in the past few days, and 13 Pac-12 players from 10 universities threatened to opt out if certain demands for safety and players’ rights were not met. 

In his interview with The Hustler on Tuesday evening, Milstein emphasized the uncertainty regarding COVID-19’s long-term effects and the inability to properly socially distance while playing football as two major factors that led to his decision to opt out of the season.

He left New York City in mid-March for Columbia’s spring break, but the university cancelled classes soon after he returned home to Florida for the break. 

“I knew the student who was infected first at Columbia,” he said. “I know students at Columbia who have had parents pass away due to the coronavirus. I think my view of the coronavirus and how devastating it can be stems from my personal knowledge of people who were severely affected in New York and in Florida now that Florida has become a real epicenter for the virus recently.”

During this time, Milstein was being recruited by Vanderbilt coaches to join the team as a transfer. He announced his intention to transfer in November 2019 and committed to the Commodores in early May.

“I wanted to play football in the SEC at the best conference in the country and pairing that with the most prestigious school in the SEC in Vanderbilt was the most ideal scenario for me,” he said. “I value both the athletics and the academics side of being a student-athlete.”

Although he was unable to visit Vanderbilt’s campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Milstein’s communications with previous Ivy League graduate transfers who played at Vanderbilt convinced him to come to West End for his final two years of athletic eligibility.

Milstein is unsure if he will retain two years of eligibility after opting out of this season, but he is currently enrolled as a student in the Owen Graduate School of Management and plans to remain in Nashville for the academic year.

A spokesman for the athletic department declined to comment on Milstein opting out.