COL­LEGES MIGHT PUNT ON SEA­SON

Big Ten ex­pected to lead Power 5 to­ward not play­ing in fall

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG, STAFF RE­PORTER sgreen­berg@sun­times.com | @SLGreen­berg

On Wednes­day, the Big Ten re­leased its con­fer­ence-only foot­ball sched­ule.

A day later, Illi­nois held its first prac­tice. “This is the safest place for the play­ers to be,” coach Lovie Smith said.

Ath­letic direc­tor Josh Whit­man said Illi­nois — where 18 foot­ball play­ers alone tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 af­ter re­port­ing for on­cam­pus work­outs in June — had de­tected no spread of the virus trace­able to the re­sump­tion of ath­letic ac­tiv­i­ties.

Over the week­end, though, col­lege foot­ball’s 2020 sea­son — if it was ever go­ing to hap­pen — be­gan to loudly fall apart. At Illi­nois, North­west­ern, Notre Dame and ev­ery­where else the col­lege game is played, they are brac­ing for an end be­fore a sin­gle ball is snapped.

On Sat­ur­day, the Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence post­poned all fall sports. The Big Ten an­nounced it was de­lay­ing the sched­uled on­set of full-pads prac­tices.

By Sun­day, Power 5 com­mis­sion­ers were hud­dled — via video con­fer­ence, we’re sure — and more meet­ings were sched­uled for con­fer­ences with their re­spec­tive school pres­i­dents.

The me­dia re­ports came from across the land­scape and only got more dire about the prospects of a sea­son. The Big Ten is widely ex­pected to lead the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac12 to the same sad, dis­ap­point­ing fin­ish line — fin­ished be­fore it starts — with the Power 5 domi­noes be­gin­ning to fall as soon as Mon­day.

This is not only about health and safety. Schools’ li­a­bil­ity con­cerns are un­der­stand­ably high. A game-chang­ing mo­ment might have come when the mother of In­di­ana fresh­man of­fen­sive line­man Brady Feeney posted on Face­book that her son had “14 days of hell” and po­ten­tially de­vel­oped long-term heart prob­lems af­ter a pos­i­tive test at school. But there were enough ma­jor pro­grams with out­breaks of pos­i­tives that this isn’t about any one case.

In the big­ger pic­ture, play­ers are band­ing to­gether across con­fer­ences to have their own con­cerns and de­mands heard. Pres­i­dents, com­mis­sion­ers, the NCAA — none are pre­pared for the even­tu­al­ity of pay­ing play­ers and/or giv­ing them a se­ri­ous slice of the rev­enue pie. And it’s hard to imag­ine any­thing that would do more for play­ers’ col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing po­si­tion than be­ing put on the field while a virus abounds and class­rooms are closed for in-per­son learn­ing.

Hav­ing foot­ball in the spring — and then hav­ing the same play­ers gear back up for foot­ball in the fall — would not only com­pro­mise play­ers’ bod­ies, but also strengthen their bar­gain­ing po­si­tion. Don’t ex­pect a spring sea­son, at least not in the Power 5, al­though some re­ports in­di­cate it’s a pos­si­bil­ity.

GETTY IM­AGES

Big Ten com­mis­sioner Kevin War­ren de­layed the sched­uled on­set of full-pads prac­tices Sat­ur­day.

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