The 2020 college football season is in purgatory at the moment, and with each passing day it appears more likely that its fate will be banishment from this realm. Each day the televisions bring more bad news. With last week’s announcements from the Big Ten and Pac-10, we know that the best case scenario is some type of shorter ad hoc version of our usual fall rollercoaster ride. Meanwhile, every time we open Twitter we see more sports journalists predicting that there will be no college football this fall.
At this point I think we have all read about the challenges that college football faces. We have fixated on them so deeply that in most moments I have found myself living as if reality has already adjusted, and the sport that we schedule weddings and funerals around is gone for another year.
Then I remember that all is not yet lost. In those moments I ask myself how we can play football this year? To many among us, the idea of playing games among a pandemic feels somehow irreverent. In my opinion there could be nothing more beautiful than celebrating life in the face of adversity. We celebrate as a society when we do things that unite us in a shared experience. Things like college football take us away from the daily worries that normally consume our lives. I think we could all use a week of wondering how Georgia’s new quarterback is going to look on the road in Tuscaloosa instead of worrying about furloughs, layoffs and transmissions. We have never needed football more.
So how do we play it? What would it actually take to make a season happen at this point?
Maintain The Bubbles
First is the good news. After expressing that football season is in danger last Saturday due to the spike in positive Covid-19 tests occurring in many parts of the country recently, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey sounded more positive during interviews given Wednesday. Much of Sankey’s optimism came from the fact that institutions that were having dozens of positive Covid-19 cases when athletes first returned are now showing that they might be able to keep the spread of the virus under control. “Our numbers are way down from the low single digits to zero,” said Sankey. “One of my presidents said, ‘Hey, I feel comfortable we can support and oversee and keep people healthy.”
This means teams are successfully creating bubbles. Keeping the integrity of each team’s bubbles is the first key to having a season, but how do we do that if and when student’s return to campus?
Take Online Classes
In order to keep players from catching Covid-19 and transmitting it to their coaches and teammates, college football players should be in online classes this fall. There are those who will cry out in anger at this, and express displeasure over the idea of college football players lives looking much different from those of the student-body. This is dumb. Student-athlete’s lives are much different from those of the average college student’s already. Two of last year’s Heisman Finalists, Joe Burrow and Justin Fields, basically never stepped foot on campus.
Realize There’s No Perfect Answer
Some will say that the separation and isolation of taking online classes and extreme distancing measures to preserve the health of a football team could be potentially traumatic to college football players. That’s valid, but training for an entire lifetime to play college football and losing the opportunity to is also potentially traumatic. We are living in a pandemic. All of our realities have been altered. Many of us have had to take extreme measures to continue our jobs and lives. If a player feels that too much effort and distress will be required to allow them to play football this season, that player should be allowed to opt out of team activities without losing their scholarship.
Many will cry out, “These players are having to treat football like their job!” Those people are right. The players have been treating football like a job for decades now. You want to know why? Because it is. We all know that the players deserve to be paid. This article isn’t about that, but if you disagree with me then feel free to jump into the comments and I will be happy to drag your ass there while giving you all of the reasons they should be. Amateurism is a scam, but it is the current system nonetheless.
Right now the biggest threat to the season appears to be the spread of Covid-19 outside of programs. What happens when a player is inevitably injured? It would be wrong to take medical resources away from people hospitalized in critical condition over football injuries that won’t happen if we don’t play games.
That means the football season is dependent on the communities surrounding universities getting the spread of the virus under control. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a mask mandate into order yesterday. Other states and communities need to do the same if they want football to happen. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp took the exact opposite measure and banned the community wide mask mandates that many cities had enacted within the state. Kemp is a Georgia graduate, and he hasn’t been shy about tying himself to the UGA football program. His campaign benefited greatly from tying itself to Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, and Kemp has spoken plenty of times about his love for the Dawgs, but his actions are speaking so loudly that it’s hard to hear his words. With his ban on mask mandates, Kemp is actively working towards a cancellation of the 2020 football season.
You cannot be anti-mask and pro-college football at the same time. If you want to watch football this season then you need to wear a mask. It is that simple.
Be Grounded In Reality
Let me be clear here, I don’t want anyone to get sick. I had Covid-19 in March, and I fully understand how bad it sucks. That being said, there are a lot of people who talk about the virus as it relates to football season by asking this question, “What happens when a player or coach catches it and dies?”
First of all, the odds of someone under the age of 24 dying from Covid-19 are ten times less than a player being struck by lightning this season. The fact that anyone is discussing that as a possibility is absurd. Especially when you consider that college football players are conditioned daily and on individualized nutrition plans. Let’s look at some data.
Okay, so we know that college football players are not at risk because of their age, but we keep hearing about how cases are going up. That must mean that deaths are on the rise too, right?
No. This chart from the CDC shows that the death toll from Covid-19 spiked in April, and has continued downhill. It is getting lower every week. I’m not an epidemiologist, but I can read a chart. This is good news.
There are those who worry about a football player catching Coronavirus and then spreading it to a vulnerable elder family member. That is a danger for everyone. You know what segment of our population is least likely to give Covid-19 to an older family member this Fall? Student-athletes. Why? Because they will be tested at a rate that nobody else in society is going to be.
Look I love the gameday experience as much as anyone, but this seems pretty obvious to me. No fans equals less chance of new transmissions, less strain on local emergency services, less people gathering at tailgates and less people traveling from their hometowns to mix with different populations. It will help keep the virus at bay.
Add More Weeks To The Season Or Go To 10 Game Conference Schedules
The 2020 college football season can be played, but in order to do so a sport that likes to schedule its games a decade in advance is going to have to be fine with adjusting on the fly. If a team’s starting offensive line tests positive then we should have a way to delay that game and play it to a later date. If we cut a couple out of conference games and go to a ten game SEC schedule then all the better. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?!...
I think football season can happen. Our athletes will be held to new standards, and our communities and campus need to join them in upholding distancing measures in order to limit transmissions and the strain those positive cases put on infrastructure. It will be different, but college football can and should happen.
The country needs it, and as Ed Orgeron said to Mike Pence on Wednesday, the players do too.
Sure things are going to get weird, but we love college football for its oddities. It is fully possible to embrace and enjoy the potential novelty of the 2020 season while still not liking the fact Covid-19 exists.
Wanting a football season is not the same as wanting people to get sick or die. The dats is very clear that we are not asking the players to risk their lives for our entertainment.
There are ways to make this season happen, and those efforts should be made. Lord knows we need football now more than ever.