Col­lege foot­ball sea­son is on the brink

The News Tribune - - Sports - BY DAVE HYDE Sun Sen­tinel

At what point does some­one in a po­si­tion of au­thor­ity in col­lege foot­ball look at the un­steady foot­ing we’re all on with the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and say, “Why are we pre­tend­ing to have the sea­son as sched­uled?”

We’ve moved from how some sports could re­turn to why they ever would in this pan­demic. No big-time coach or con­fer­ence wants to be the first to say so about col­lege foot­ball, so they’re mak­ing us watch them day by day, baby-step by baby-step.

Ohio State, North Carolina and Kansas had enough pos­i­tive COVID-19 tests amid the shady cha­rade of vol­un­tary work­outs to sus­pend sum­mer pro­grams. The Big Ten and Pac-12 an­nounced last week they would only play games in con­fer­ence, in a state­ment that had the un­der­cur­rent: If they play at all.

Those are good and log­i­cal steps, even as it’s get­ting more dif­fi­cult to see where this ends ex­cept with­out a fall foot­ball sea­son. It’s dif­fi­cult enough for pro leagues en­ter­ing an in­vented bio­sphere, like the NBA and Ma­jor League Soc­cer, to carry through with their plans.

The glim­mer of hope re­mains the Euro­peans soc­cer leagues. They’re play­ing. But their back­drop isn’t the ris­ing coro­n­avirus is­sues as in Amer­ica. The ques­tion with sports ac­com­pany the larger is­sues and, in base­ball, some big names like Washington’s Ryan Zim­mer­man and Ari­zona’s Mike Leake say they’re not even play­ing.

That raises the ques­tion: Will Clem­son quar­ter­back Trevor Lawrence, the hands-down No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next spring, re­turn for this shaky sea­son? Will any­one pro­jected in the first round? That adds an­other layer to what’s hap­pen­ing if a cou­ple of dozen play­ers like Mi­ami de­fen­sive end Greg Rousseau say they’re sit­ting this one out.

That should be a con­sid­er­a­tion for them, too. When col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors and coaches put play­ers at the front line of risk they for­feit the idea of hav­ing the play­ers’ best in­ter­est in mind. The cam­puses are empty yet prac­tices go on. The cases rise but work­outs aren’t stopped in most places.

No mat­ter how much good the plan­ning is from coaches and ath­letic de­part­ments, the plan can’t work. It re­lies on the kids act­ing prop­erly. We’ve seen how that’s gone in places far be­yond the ath­letic fields these days. Florida In­ter­na­tional had 12 foot­ball play­ers test pos­i­tive, and were sent into a 48-hour iso­la­tion while re-test­ing was done. Seven of them broke iso­la­tion, for­mer trainer Kevin O’Neill said.

That’s the story all col­leges have trou­ble with right now. It’s the rea­son Ohio State and North Carolina sim­ply told kids to go home rather than pre­tend they can keep play­ers healthy. The sim­ple rule for col­leges should be when the cam­puses are deemed safe again for classes, they’ll be safe again for sports.

That gets wrapped in an­other ma­trix of fac­ulty’s con­cerns, stu­dent safety and, yep, money. Let’s not be cyn­i­cal or preachy over money, too. It’s a nat­u­ral con­cern. The hypocrisy is col­lege sports of­ten pre­tend money isn’t a func­tion of their games.

The loss of a foot­ball sea­son comes at a se­vere hu­man cost be­yond sim­ply play­ers, too. The Univer­sity of Mi­ami ath­letic depart­ment, like many busi­nesses, fur­loughed some em­ploy­ees. Florida State slashed its ath­letic bud­get by 20% on Fri­day, elim­i­nat­ing 25 jobs and ad­min­is­ter­ing pay cuts.

Stan­ford axed 11 sports last week: men’s and women’s fenc­ing, field hockey, light­weight row­ing, men’s row­ing, coed and women’s sail­ing, squash, men’s vol­ley­ball, wrestling and syn­chro­nized swim­ming. That’s nearly 250 ath­letes and 20 coaches.

None of them are foot­ball or bas­ket­ball, so it’s not the head­lines. It barely was head­lines when the Ivy League an­nounced it was sus­pend­ing all sports un­til Jan. 1 at the ear­li­est.

“It’s been kind of like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny,” long-time Dart­mouth foot­ball coach Buddy Teevens said to the New York Times. “You kind of knew they didn’t ex­ist, and then fi­nally you were told.”

It’s time to tell ev­ery­one. It’s less than two months to the sched­uled Sept. 5 kick­off for ma­jor schools. But the foot­ball sea­son won’t be hap­pen­ing as sched­uled. The ques­tion be­comes who’s the first to stand up and ad­mit that.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI AP

Time is run­ning out for a nor­mal col­lege foot­ball sea­son to start on time. Sev­eral con­fer­ences have al­ready can­celled non-league games.

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