Yes, an elbow bump.
Those are just some of the ways Ohio State football players and coaches are trying to avoid an outbreak of the flu as the school year begins this week. Reported flu outbreaks have affected several teams early in the 2009 season. Florida, Mississippi, Tulsa, Washington State and Wisconsin are among the teams that have had players miss practices and/or games because illness. A flu outbreak even canceled a Sept. 5 game between Division II teams Stillman College and Clark Atlanta University.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is taking the flu situation seriously, even if it did lead to a lighthearted moment Tuesday during his weekly press luncheon. After fielding a question about punter Jon Thoma, who was kept away from the team last week and missed last weekend's game against Toledo game because the flu, and how the Buckeyes were working to prevent the illness from spreading, Tressel debuted his new preferred greeting.
"You're supposed to elbow bump, that's the newest thing," Tressel said as he asked a media member join him next to the podium. "So you go back to the office, give a little – ‘s'happening,' you know. So wash your hands a lot and elbow bump, stay rested, stay hydrated."
The elbow bump Tressel gave as he uttered "s'happening" – likely for the first time in his life – may have been funny, but the flu is not. Assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said an outbreak is a scary though.
"It can run through and devastate a team," Hazell said. "You can lose five or six guys, or even 10 guys. You can be hurting for a week, so it's kind of scary."
While elbow bumping may not be a craze that takes off, the Buckeyes are aware of the flu outbreaks at other schools. Senior running back Marcus Williams said the team is taking the necessary precautions but no one in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is overly concerned.
"No one's panicking," he said. "It's flu season, you know?"
"We take it seriously, but then again, we're not walking on egg shells around the Woody," Williams added. "You can't be scared. It's the flu. You might get sick, but you just need to take the proper precautions. If you're sick, go to the doctor, go to the trainer and get it taken care of."
Top-ranked Florida is one of the more recent teams to deal with the potential of a flu outbreak. Florida head coach Urban Meyer sent his receivers coach home on Monday because he was feeling ill. The Gators also kept three players – running back Jeff Demps, tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham – away from the team last week because of flulike symptoms. All three did play last weekend against Tennessee, however.
Tressel said he recently spoke with Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt about the Rebels' lucky break. Nutt's squad had up to 30 players miss practice Sept. 10 with flu symptoms. Fortunately for the Rebels, they had an open date that weekend.
"If they'd have played two weekends ago, they'd have been without 19 starters," Tressel said.
Several Florida players were given flu shots Sunday, and after Ohio State takes on Illinois to start Big Ten play this weekend, many Buckeyes will do the same.
Senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa will be among them.
"They can't make us, but they strongly suggest that we get flu shots," Chekwa said.
Until the flu worries pass, elbow bumping may be the "in" thing at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
"I don't know if that's going to last a whole long time," Homan said. "We'll see."