College football is collapsing.
That’s a sentence which, prior to March, I never thought I’d write.
But since then, sadly, it’s no big surprise.
And, sure enough, here we are, already having seen some leagues kill football in 2020 and waiting for others to soon join the dead-and-dying season.
Better football, though, than more human beings.
That’s what this all should be about, saving lives, keeping student-athletes as healthy and safe as possible, not simply dodging more expenses or avoiding liability for known or unknown consequences — such as the way a virus can affect a survivor’s lungs and heart — of COVID-19, and lawsuits that are sure to follow. But you have to wonder in what order those priorities fall.
The blame for conferences teetering on the edge of a cliff that already has the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the Mountain West, the MAC, the Ivy League canceling or postponing their football, along with other schools, is easy to shove into the faces of conference leaders, school presidents and the NCAA.
What the hell have they been doing since March, when it became apparent that COVID-19 not only was real, but real devastating?
The answer is … not a lot. Not enough.
The NCAA and other leaders, along with much of the country, were kind of sitting back and waiting to see how discriminating COVID-19 would be. As it turned out, it wasn’t discriminating at all. It disrupted the lives of everyone. And much like national leaders did with individual states, leaving active problem-solving to local jurisdictions, the NCAA fiddled-and-faddled around, passing action on to individual schools and conferences, giving them few navigational insights into how best to attack the pandemic.
Granted, it’s complicated, the problems having varied in degree from region to region. Nevertheless, strong, basic unification could have been useful in coming up with a plan to address the virus, and better control it, better contain it for the purposes of playing football again.
Remember those school presidents who all those months ago said so bravely and confidently college football not only would be played, it would be played in front of fans loaded into stadiums? What happened to those guys’ scrambled foresight, scrambled plans?
There are some coaches and athletic directors who have said they still want to go ahead and play. Some have even suggested teams from a conference that has canceled football temporarily moving to play in a different one. No matter how cavalier those schools want to be, that seems unlikely given the tangled TV rights that would still bounce back to the original league. Let’s say it this way: Everybody would love to play — if they could do so safely. And that’s the biggest question of all: Can it be played safely?
Nobody’s sure it can be. There are only guesses. The pandemic has infected more than five million Americans to date, and that number will go higher. Professional leagues such as the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS have pretty much successfully resumed play in a bubble environment, where player actions have been strictly controlled. Major League Baseball has played in a more open format — and its season has leaned hard left and hard right, with some teams bailing out of series because too many players have come down with the coronavirus. It remains uncertain how that season will play out, or if it will play out.
College football is a whole different matter, one clearly outside anyone’s idea of a bubble, dealing with large numbers of young athletes, coming and going into and out of practice facilities and locker rooms and onto playing fields, where they smash helmets and pads and body parts with opponents, some of whom may not be as cautious as they should be regarding the virus. Last time anyone checked, college students are … social.
As mentioned, there’s been no system, no unified series of checkpoints put in place by leaders of college football that would bolster the confidence of responsible parties that athletes could and would play safely in the face of this pandemic.
Some student-athletes say they want to play, that they’re willing to take the risks in doing so, but at some level they should be protected from themselves by the grown-ups in the room who sponsor the endeavor and who are responsible for their care.
I’ve known players who would play with broken bones or ruptured tendons, just to keep their position on a team. For them, the potential spread of a virus wouldn’t be reason enough to interfere.
But it is reason enough.
And leagues, one by one, are coming to that conclusion. It’s the right thing to do, after so much in the way of vision and foresight and prompt action has already been fumbled and bumbled. It’s time to acquiesce to the power of a pandemic that was always formidable, but that now has been allowed to go beyond where if might have gone had it been approached and handled differently.
So, now, college football is collapsing, at this point as it should, because it’s not as important as … you know, living and breathing. And those who think it should be played, even in an environment of disorganization, are exhibiting the same mindlessness, the same disrespect for a brutal force that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and affected millions more, that enabled it to reach this desperate juncture from the outset.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.