THE OLD COLLEGE SIGH
Football players being put in awful position for benefit of everyone else
There’s a growing consensus among scientists that we’ll have to live with the coronavirus. That is, get along with it in our midst for, well, maybe forever. Adapt. Adjust. Learn. Suffer.
Even nasty communicable diseases like SARS and Ebola have not gone away. They are bubbling quietly somewhere, brainlessly waiting for their moment to rise again.
I hate to ratchet up the anxiety quotient, but the recent issue of Science Magazine states that pigs in China are increasingly getting infected with ever newer strains of influenza viruses. One variant, called G4, is at its core an avian flu virus, to which we have no immunity.
“It appears that this is a swine influenza virus that is poised to emerge in humans,” University of Sydney evolutionary biologist and pathogen researcher Edward Holmes said about G4.
So how do we live knowing that pandemics exist and likely will continue?
Well, my realm of expertise is sports. So the narrower question here is how do the twin roles of sport as play and entertainment adapt to this?
Simple answer — nobody knows.
The easy solution is to close everything down.
But that’s like living in a cave. Broadway theaters just announced they’ll close for at least the rest of the year. That’s tough. Dramatic acting has long been part of our culture.
And college football?
Some need that as much as others need Shakespeare.
But right now, we don’t even know what shape college itself will take.
I have friends who have college-age children set to start or return to campus classes late this summer, and even today they aren’t certain whether those kids are going, staying, doing classes online, taking gap years, looking for jobs, whatever.
National leadership on these health matters, of course, is missing. A president who refuses to wear a mask, who says over and over that the pandemic is vanishing, calls it the “Kung flu,” a hoax, even — that man is the cackling witch stirring the pot of chaos.
The rest of us are left to worry about real concerns with a disease that we know is passed along best in crowded places, without face coverings, where things are active, words are shouted, people touch and physically interact strongly.
In other words, football.
Yet already some Division I schools have players back, working out. And, as we might expect, lots of players have tested positive for COVID-19. There have been five at Nebraska, six at The Citadel, 14 at Oklahoma State, 37 at Clemson, plus five football staff members, on and on.
And the numbers swell every day, as test results necessarily lag infection.
There are three problems that must be addressed here.
First, how sick do the athletes get? Second, whom do they pass the virus on to, including family members or senior citizens who might be vulnerable to bad outcomes? And three, if everyone, including coaches, quarantines for 10 days after testing positive — which is civilized — how does a team function?
Again, it would be easy just to call the whole thing off. (Please don’t come up with helpful sanitations and distancing rules, like not shouting or avoiding pileups or staying 6 feet apart in a huddle; football ain’t tennis, people.)
Back in May, NCAA chief Mark Emmert seemed to draw a line in the sand about college football actually being a part of real college.
“If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” he said, adding that colleges don’t have to be in “full normal model.” But they can’t be online, dorm-free, faux universities, either.
“So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports,” Emmert concluded. “It’s really that simple.”
But is it?
High-level college football brings in a huge amount of revenue to athletic departments. In normal times, Big Ten schools get well over $50 million annually, mostly from football. Michigan football itself brought in almost $130 million in 2019.
You think Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want his $9 million salary chunk this year? You think the other sports at every major school that depend on football’s largesse want to see the cash cow driven off a cliff ?
Maybe we must learn to live with danger always present, with risk/reward decisions made each time we step out the door. But college football players are being required to sign waivers against all claims against their schools for any COVID-19 liabilities.
Run through a wall for old State U., Jimmy!
But don’t blame us if you get sick doing it. Education 101.
YOU THINK THE OTHER SPORTS AT EVERY MAJOR SCHOOL THAT DEPEND ON FOOTBALL’S LARGESSE WANT TO SEE THE CASH COW DRIVEN OFF A CLIFF?