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College presidents, athletic directors, commissioners, and all those in charge of the very, very weird world of sports at major American universities have had almost four months to figure out how to get college football going in the age of a global pandemic.
And they’re on the verge of totally blowing it.
I honestly thought that raw greed – combined with the economic survival of various athletic departments – would’ve been enough motivation to generate a more innovative plan than hoping the bad virus thingy would just go away.
But there’s still time. There’s not a lot, but there’s some.
Yes, there still might be a college football season like normal, and if that doesn’t happen, there’s still a shot at playing in some way. However, reality is starting rain down on ADs and conference commissioners like an anvil, and they’re borrowing an umbrella from Wile E. Coyote.
So to sum up every radio appearance I’ve been on over the last four months, and just about every other conversation I’ve had with the outside world, let’s do this …
Will there be a college football season?
Short answer, yes, but it won’t be anything like normal. There’s no way the schedule will go off without several hitches and changes along the way.
It might be a season of eight or so games, it might start a little later, and there will definitely be a twists and turns along the way. No matter what, the athletic directors will have to fight every instinct that made them major college athletic directors and be flexible on the fly.
But yes, I actually do think that at least some teams will be playing college football in the fall. I’ll get into this more at the end.
But how? How can college football be safely played?
It’s the same thing I’ve been saying since mid-March. It can be done, but you’re not going to like the answer.
All players and coaches have to be tested, quarantined, and isolated from the rest of humankind for the entirety of the college football season.
That’s it. That’s the deal, and at this late stage of the game, it’s non-negotiable.
Start August 1, get practices up and rolling, and go on through the first week of December. It’s only four months, and it’s going to go by in a snap.
Also, remember, it’s not for forever. It’s just to get through this 2020 season and then everyone can reassess.
To buy into what has to be done, though, everyone has to get rid of the notion that the game of football can be changed to protect players from the virus.
This can’t be played without gatherings on the field, on the sidelines, and in the locker room. This can’t be played without collisions, and without sweat and spit flying all over the place. This can’t be tweaked to adapt to the normal guidelines that everyone else is supposed to adhere to.
No, the only way this flies is if all the players and coaches on the field are as clean as can be reasonably asked for from the tests currently available. That means no going out, no going to bars or parties, and no going out into the world.
It stinks. It all stinks. It’s all bad. But if you want to play college football this season, this is how it has to work. Any other way will guarantee a shutdown or a disruption of some sort, and …
Whatever. They’re not going to lock down and quarantine everyone. So now what?
There doesn’t appear to be any other practical plan in place.
Say it’s the night before Georgia vs. Alabama and three Crimson Tide players test positive. Yes, they get isolated, and yes, they’ll probably be okay, but Georgia isn’t going to want to play unless it knows that everyone on the other side tested negative and hasn’t come directly in contact with the affected players.
That’s going to be logistically tougher than it might seem.
Then, you have to trace back to Georgia State – who Alabama will have played the week before – and then back to USC from the opening weekend, and anyone those two teams came into contact with.
And then what happens to the Kent State game for Bama a week later, and the date at Ole Miss after that if everyone has to quarantine for 14 days?
Again, better to lock down everyone from the get-go then shut it all down in the middle of the season.
And I know exactly what’s coming next from an all-too-sizable portion of the public.
These are 18-to-22-year-olds in peak condition. If they get it, they’re almost certainly going to be fine, and …
Yeah, but there’s something different about college football in a that’s-someone’s-son sort of way.
Are you 1000% certain that every player who gets this won’t have any lingering, life-altering effects?
Are you 1000% certain that some NFL talent won’t see his lung capacity decrease by just enough to keep him from being at the elite level he needs to play at?
Are you 1000% certain that no player will die from COVID-19 if a season is played like normal?
Even if you believe this is all overblown and the media is pedaling fear porn, the reality is that when people get this, things shut down. You might not agree, and you might think it’s an overreaction, but that’s the deal.
Also, remember, there’s one gaping difference here between college football and the pro sports. The college football players don’t have any representation.
Pro athletes have a union, agents, and people getting paid a whole lot of money to look out for their best interests. If there’s a collectively bargained agreement, then the players have to trust that the people in charge are trying to keep them safe.
College football players don’t have that, so there’s a massive moral problem when unpaid – we can get into the whole compensation side another time – athletes are taking a health risk for the love of the game.