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The Battle For College Football Is Raging

The 2020 college football season is hanging by a thread right now and with it so are all of college sports until the fall of 2021.

Because make no mistake about it, if college football isn’t played this fall, it’s highly likely no college sports will be played again until the fall of 2021. We’re staring down an 18 month college sports hiatus squarely in the face right now.

Expectation among many in the college sports industry is that Big Ten university presidents will soon vote to shut down the fall football season, setting in place a domino effect that will lead to the Pac 12 immediately following suit followed by increasing pressure being placed upon the ACC, Big 12 and SEC to also cancel their seasons.

This isn’t a decision that makes logical sense and many — coaches, players, administrators, athletic directors, even some university presidents — all know it, but they feel powerless to stop the tide of panic and fear porn that has brought us to this moment.

How did we get here and what is coming in the days and weeks ahead? More importantly, is there any road map that can keep college football on track to be played this fall? And if so, what must happen for that to occur?

Let’s dive into the college football maelstrom and try to make sense of what’s going on right now.

First, let’s consider where we are in the larger sports universe. Most high school football, MLB, the NBA, NHL, MLS, NFL, PGA, LPGA, NASCAR, the NWSL, the US Open in tennis, UFC, boxing, the Kentucky Derby and the Indy 500 are all happening either right now or in the near future.

The only major sport at this point in time that is potentially going to be canceled is college football.

How is it possible that all of these sports, both pro and amateur, are finding ways to play and college football can’t find a way to play?

It’s because school presidents have fallen victim to fear porn.

I’ll explain why in a moment, but let’s start here with a data point that is imperative to consider in all contextual arguments about college athletics: college kids are not, as a group, at any kind of substantial risk of death from the coronavirus. College kids are more likely to die driving to campus than they are from the coronavirus. They are more likely to be murdered or die of alcohol or drug overdoses than they are of the coronavirus. The risk of death or serious injury to college kids from the coronavirus is lower than the risk of death from the seasonal flu.

These facts should matter to adults in university settings, but they are being overshadowed by fear porn.

Now, to be fair, it is impossible to stop college kids from becoming infected with the coronavirus — indeed, with college kids returning to campus the virus is likely to spread widely — but, and this is highly significant, almost none of these college students will have serious health issues. In fact, most won’t even know they have it at all. For those that feel sick, it will strike the majority as a cold or mild virus. It’s impossible to completely eliminate risk, but students on college campuses are under far more danger from alcohol and the flu than they are from the coronavirus.

What’s more, for athletes in particular, there is zero evidence to support the idea that college athletes are safer off campus than they are on campus. This is an important detail that fear porn purveyors — and those that buy into the fear porn narrative — are unable to combat and frequently won’t discuss. College athletes are being regularly tested and treated by medical professionals on campus. If they test positive they receive immediate treatment from highly trained health professionals, often before they even know they are ill at all.

Athletes off campus don’t have this luxury. They aren’t being regularly tested and if they have the virus they are likely to spread it to others, including elderly family and friends. That’s why the vast majority of athletes will find themselves in a much more dangerous environment living off campus than they do living on campus. Furthermore, athletes are far more likely to come into contact with elderly friends and family off campus than they are on campus.

In all the talk about the risk to athletes, I rarely see anyone point this out: athletes are safer on campus than they would be off campus. Again, we can’t eliminate risk — it’s possible that an athlete could get sick or even die while living on campus — but it’s far more likely an athlete will get sick or die off campus than it is on campus.

That’s why university presidents who are poised to shut down college athletics aren’t actually making things safer for athletes if they do so. In fact, they’re actually making it more dangerous for their athletes by shutting down sports. What they are doing in shutting down college football — and other athletic events — is simply passing the risk elsewhere.

Shutting down college sports isn’t about making athletes safer, it’s about university presidents being able to shift the blame elsewhere. This is exact opposite of what real campus leadership should look like. University presidents aren’t mitigating risk by shutting down sports, they’re actually increasing it for their athletes — but putting the risk elsewhere. They aren’t making athletes safer, they’re making their own jobs safer.

This is what reasonable members of the sports media should be pointing out. Instead their pollyannaish embrace of perpetual fear porn headlines has terrified university presidents, leading them to determine the only safe alternative is the one that’s actually less safe — cancel college football. It’s an epic failure of the sports media and the people in positions of power at universities. Logic and reasonable analysis of risk factors have been replaced by fear porn, anecdotes override facts, outlier viral stories lead to broken policies. This is the coronavirus story writ large, but it’s being exploited in sports at the college level. (While members of the sports media want to claim their coverage isn’t impacting decision making, this is farcical. Time after time in talking with officials at universities they point to the coverage of college football on Twitter and their fear of being blamed in the event something bad happens. We’ve reached a point where many people in positions of power fear losing their jobs to a mob on social media more than they fear making the wrong decision. The result is many of these university officials are willing to make the wrong decisions for their institutions because it makes their own jobs safer. It’s the exact opposite of what we expect leaders to do. These university administrators aren’t making the tough, right decision, they’re making the weak, wrong decision. All to preserve their own jobs at the expense of the long term institutional health of their employers.)

Because, and this is key, make no mistake about it, the effect of a college football season not being played will be cataclysmic for college athletic departments. (As well as the college communities and businesses reliant upon athletics). If you don’t play college football this fall, you aren’t playing in the spring. (Again, even floating this idea is a sports media failure. The risks to college football players aren’t going to magically be eliminated in the spring. And even if there is a vaccine, it will be the summer, likely, before that vaccine is widespread and available to all. Can you imagine the reaction if colleges get their athletes vaccinated so they can play sports before others at higher risk in their communities are able to get the vaccines? Heck, this was a concern when it came to testing. If anything, college athletes, young and healthy as they are, will be the last people getting the vaccine. And even if the vaccine is widely available by February or March, which seems highly unlikely, do you really think college kids are going to be able to play 20 or 24 games in the space of six months? Their bodies won’t hold up. It’s far more dangerous to play the actual sport of football, ironically, than the coronavirus itself is. Which makes the coronabros in the sports media huge hypocrites. College athletes are likely to have severe health effects from playing football. And have been doing so for decades. Yet no one says a word about those far more prominent risks. But now the coronavirus is here, which offers almost no threat to them, and suddenly student health is paramount? It’s a joke.)

If college football doesn’t play then there’s no way college basketball happens either. If you can’t play an outdoor game of football in September, how can you play basketball indoors in November, December or January? Goodbye March Madness for a second year in a row. Hello, athletic department bankruptcies.

Without revenue producing sports for 18 months, most athletic departments can’t continue to provide scholarships for additional students. So sports will be canceled in abundance. Many of those cancellations will impact women’s sports the most, because women’s sports all make no money.

The ultimate irony here of canceling college football? Football will still be on TV on Saturdays. It will just be the NFL instead of college. The NFL, which has businessmen for owners, will sweep right in and take over all the Saturday broadcast windows for college football, likely pocketing hundreds of millions of additional dollars in the process, helping to make up for the money they lose from ticket sales.

The end result of this decision will be straightforward, simple, and devastating: college athletics as we know it will collapse.

So how do we combat this from happening?

I think politicians are our best options, honestly, which tells you what dire straits we’re in right now. The cancellation of college football is a profoundly political decision. It’s not based on health, it’s based on passing risk from universities to someone else.

Once the school presidents start voting to cancel seasons it will be extremely difficult to overturn those decisions. We need action and debate and we need it now. That’s why we need governors in the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, and Pac 12 states to speak loudly RIGHT NOW and say that their state institutions, particularly those that are open with students attending class, will be playing sports this fall. Unfortunately, that’s likely to be political as well. Red state governors — that is, most of the SEC and Big 12 states — are likely to be more outspoken than blue state governors. But that’s unfortunate because this shouldn’t be partisan. The viral impact across the country is the same for college kids whether they are in Michigan, Texas, Florida or California. But all too often everything is political these days.

United States senators, congressmen, and local political leaders also need to make their voices heard if they want college sports between now and the fall of 2021. Because right now they are almost all silent and school presidents are taking that silence as acquiescence to their authority to make these decisions.

Finally, and this is a bit of a wild card because he’s so radioactive right now he provokes visceral agreement and disagreement by taking a position on anything: we also might need President Trump to speak out about the importance of college football.

What we desperately need, at the absolute minimum, is a national debate before these presidents vote to end the college football season. If my side, the one that favors playing college football, loses a robust, uninhibited and rigorous debate, I can live with that. But I can’t live without that debate, with silent acquiescence to left wing school presidents who are making decisions rooted in fear instead of facts.

We need all the facts laid out for all the public to see what risks there are for allowing college sports to return. We need to allow individual players and coaches to opt out of the season if they so desire, but we also need for those players and coaches who want to play, which is the vast, vast majority of the college football players in the country, to be able to make their arguments in favor of playing.

Ultimately, it’s time for those of us in this nation who want to be able to go back to work, school and sports to be able to do so. Everyone doesn’t have to go back to work, school and sports, but we can’t continue to allow the most fearful in our population to dictate the choices the rest of us are allowed to make.

If some people are so fearful they want to stay in their homes for months and not come outside until there’s a vaccine, that’s their right, but those people shouldn’t take away the rights of the rest of us, who understand that life comes with risk, and are willing to step out into the bright shining sun and live our lives.

It’s well past time for the silent majority to speak and for college football to join every other sport in America in finding a way to play this fall.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is an author, radio show host, lawyer, TV analyst, and the founder of OutKick (formerly known as Outkick the Coverage).
Read More about Clay >>

28 Comments

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  1. I hate to be this way. But if they cancel the season. They deserve everything that is coming to them. Absolutely no excuse for not reading and comprehending the data that is out there. There should of been a plan set a long time ago. But the heard of sheep think covid is the worst thing ever. And they will do their damnest to cancel it.

  2. Americans for a long time have just assumed that the model for athletics was based on schools.

    In places such as Europe, this is not the case. Athletic clubs are the way that these sports are organized.

    Given the fact that the NCAA has been so sensitive to fear porn, I don’t think they are a reliable athlete development strategy to be the bridge between the high school and professional level.

    Especially with the NBA G-League, college basketball has already started to see breaks from the NCAA ranks as the only ticket to the professional level.

    I think there definitely needs to be a developmental league between high school and NFL to help athletes transition.

    To me, it seems like the Rock’s acquisition of the XFL couldn’t have been better timed.

    With top college prospects relocating even across the country to enjoy a normal senior football season, I am perceiving that letting fear porn believing university presidents determine seasons for kids with limited talent and health windows is not my desire.

    If college football and universities don’t get their stuff together, many college campus stadiums could look like Soviet bloc Olympic games venues – Dilapidated, decaying, and dead.

    I think a mind like the Rock pared with other great football minds could create a compelling league that would help bridge the gap between the amateur and professional level and give amazing entertainment value to the fans.

    Instead of viewing the XFL as some spring anesthetic to get us to the NFL draft, what if we are seeing a dramatic shift of sports away from politically minded universities to business and entertainment minded magnates?

    • Very well said, I have long been a proponent of emulating the English Soccer model of multi tier professional sports, rather than the make believe “College” athletics that we have here. There can still be amateur college sports, played by true amateurs, but Men’s Football and Men’s Basketball at the FBS power 5 level stopped being amateur sports a long time ago. And IMHO those programs are about to pay dearly for the sin of faking it all this time. Professional sports are moving on with their lives and adapting, but the NCAA programs are going to be victimized by the Karenization of American culture taking place right now.

  3. Hey Clay,
    Thanks for laying it all out there. In a moot court you have the preponderance of evidence on your side. But you also make a very compelling argument for why the admins are refusing to make the call going forward with Fall/Winter sports. And you can’t get any more compelling than them wanting to insure they have their jobs going forward.

    Weighing THEIR jobs at the expense of what we all know to be pampered young people (not all, but the “stars” and the second-tier players) who arrive with feelings of entitlement since they first donned their H.S. varsity jerseys and strutted around school; now just in a bigger fish bowl.

    That’s an easy call to make for any admin that may even be a huge football fan. But how many admins could give a rat’s azz about sports…even with so much money on the line. So maybe 50% of admins want to give the thumbs up…but nobody wants to be the one to raise their hands first, which still guarantees nothing. We’re not talking Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” here.

    They have Covid to point their fingers at and that, to their calculating minds, is taking the high road to safety. It’s the easiest call they’ll have to make ’til turkey or goose for Thanksgiving.

  4. The safest place for college kids is at their College. I’m dumbfounded by the logic of college administrators and athletic departments.

    These colleges are going to maintain multi million dollar campuses with no students. Empty building across this country paid for by taxpayers, parents and students?

    My alma mater In MD is a lacrosse powerhouse in D3 and they already lost their season last year and could lose it next spring too?
    if football moves or sports are shuts down again. It’s Not fair to students. Let them choose.

    None of this makes Any logical sense.

    There is no evidence, that the Virus is an unusual Killer. It’s easily transmitted, but we can’t keep running away from it.

    I’ve been interacting with people here in Florida every day since the epidemic. I haven’t been arrested once for getting or giving the Rona. I think I had it. I bet some people i know have had it.

    Grow Up College Athletics!!

    College Football Must Play!!

    • That would be epic. It also would further the gap between the Pac-12 and the other power conferences, and undo everything the Big Ten has done since Florida first blitzkrieg’d Ohio State in the 2006 title game. Remember when the Big Ten couldn’t compete with the SEC for like ten years after that point? Bye bye newfound parity!

  5. This is literally killing the goose who laid the golden egg. The economic impact reaches far and wide, from the universities losing television revenue which they use to fund salaries and scholarships to those outside of athletics, to the stadiums concessions and blue-collar workers losing their income, to the restaurants and bars in the college towns losing business from fans. And that is just a small sample. The University Presidents won’t lose a dime of their salaries, but tens of thousands of people (if not more) who are not in the 1% will suffer severe economic losses because of this mind-numbing idiocy.

    I’ve made this point in the forums, but I would respectfully argue that it’s not the politicians that can change this, but the high-dollar alumni donors, Board of Trustees and sponsors who can. A handful of calls to University Presidents from this group threatening to pull their money and support from the school, and then the University President’s job security is at risk and they find the “courage” to follow the science and support college football playing.

    Otherwise, the Coronabros gain a major victory and the lower-class hourly workers they claim to support and the elderly and those more susceptible to Covid they claim to be protecting loses. Safetyism wins.

    • The College Presidents will eventually feel the sting of losing Football, but its so far down the line that they don’t fully see it coming. And the ones who do see it, many are financially well off and approaching retirement so they just don’t care. They have lived their lives in Academia, which at least pretends not to be a business. They don’t connect the dots that losing huge swaths of your revenue will have a trickledown effect on everything. They are the same people who think that 80% of businesses can close and we can all live on welfare for two years. Fantasy.

  6. I love college football but I despise the cowards who are in charge. They don’t look at data and read Twitter. They got that bass ackwards. If they let Corona bro’s ruin college football this season. They should fire everybody from the top down. I hate corona bros.

  7. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist. BUT the college football bubble has been growing for years now with many teams reaching the billion dollar marks. Because of this all of this new legislation is being produced at least 10 different Congressmen have drafted some form of attack on the NCAA the most talked about is the NIL. Could the NCAA use the coronavirus to blow up there own bubble and use the loses as an excuse for congress to leave them alone. I know of a prominent tennis academy that over bid to acquire a public tennis park who is now using the coronavirus to get out of investing all of the money he bid. Never waste a good tragedy.

  8. Anton is absolutely right. And thank you for the article, Clay. We need to battle for the sport – it impacts everyone, from the players to the communities to the fans. It’s devastating in so many ways, and you articulate them all.

  9. My 2 cents:

    If they play college football this year, then they can’t act like MLB. They can’t postpone games every time someone gets a positive test throughout the week. Football is a contact sport. College kids will socialize like college kids. They’re gonna have positive tests…a lot. The braintrusts don’t believe that they can manage the inconveniences.

    College football has always been the outlier. As Clay has said, Spring isn’t a reasonable alternative. I would’ve expected them to at least try playing because of the potential consequences…

  10. If the adults control the narrative and the season IS played, there’s another potential problem on the horizon for college football this fall…those pesky woke student athletes making political statements.

    Fortunately for college football, the anthems are usually played while the players have yet to take the field, and are generally not aired. But what is to keep players from going onto the sidelines to kneel during the anthem to make a statement. ESPN and other sports media will go out of their way to show these acts of social justice…they’re in solidarity with the practice, of course. What about BLM messages on helmets or patches on jerseys? Will coaches risk losing control of their locker room by banning such actions? Not to mention the lambasting they’ll take from the super woke PTI/Around the Horn social justice criers?

    Whether it’s this year or ’21 or ’22, as athletes gain more power over their image and messaging, this will become a big problem for the sport, especially for red state SEC/ACC programs. Which is why if college football was a stock, I would be shorting the heck out of it right now.

  11. 1) People will die season or no season.
    2) No player, coach or fan needs to be there if they don’t so choose.
    3) Players and fans will be at strip clubs, bars, parties and “protests” if not at games.
    4) Many students are returning to schools. They will drink, party and copulate whether they take online courses or attend classes. Just like their parents did. And they will infect others – games or no games.

  12. I still at this point cannot fathom the schools making the decision to cancel football this year. Money is everything. Without football, there’s no money for the schools or these bigwigs and the future of their professions are nowhere near as lucrative as they are now. I think money will talk when it comes down to it. And if not…they deserve to have their entire world completely collapse around them.

    • But don’t overestimate the rationality of “intellectual” elites, these are the same geniuses who think that 80% of the country can perpetually live on welfare for years, and that two hours of zoom meetings per week with a teacher is as useful as 6 hours per day of in-person instruction. They are lying to themselves.

  13. And the left-wing media toadies will cheer as universities continue to cut their own throats. They will claim it is about “safety”. Remember when the goal was to “flatten the curve”? Yeah, me too. I weep for this country and it’s formerly great institutions. They are being run by weak, feckless corporate yes-men. Make no mistake, this is not about “safety”, it is about destroying every meaningful non-government institution so the total transformation can bring about their Marxist paradise.

  14. Clay, what you argue makes total sense. What I am afraid of is the people pushing this shut down have an agenda that has nothing to do with the actual reality of coronavirus or its dangers. What I believe is happening is an organized attempt to cause as much disruption and dissatisfaction as possible in this country leading up to the election so that Trump can be booted. Let’s cut to the chase, This is what is happening. It’s not about facts, data, logic, reason, or even common sense. This is about political power. I don’t believe we have a mass case of insanity, I believe we have a mass outbreak of TDS. It should disturb us that many of our democratic and even republican leaders are willing to push fear like this merely to gain political power back in DC and across this country. It should show you what kind of mentality you’re dealing with. I only arrive at this conclusion by assuming most people are sane, understand your arguments laid out above quite clearly, and will have nothing to do with them because they don’t fit their agenda. I’m afraid we are not fighting a battle for truth here, but an organized attempt to overthrow America. If it were just about facts and data this would not be a serious argument, but I think we all know it’s not just about that.

    • I believe you are correct John. I believe these same sentiments have been said all over this website, over and over again. I believe 80% of the folks who value this website believe you are correct to some degree. Haven’t they basically been telling us this since the President unexpectedly won with all their desperate acts, each more bold then the next, using Covid now being the most bold move we’ve seen?

      So what are we going to do? I enjoy the circular back patting on this site, because it gives me strength to know I’m not alone in my appreciation for our Constitution, seeing through the identity politics of the left, and reason over emotion, but we all know this isn’t enough. I believe as I’m writing this the Big 10 has already voted to not play.

      Personally, I’m trying to be more engaged in my community, trying to be more engaged with two of my children who see differently then I, I will vote for Trump, but I know more needs to be done. Maybe Clay and Jason could help us brainstorm, maybe they have already started doing something more along these lines, and I’m not aware. I’m just extremely frustrated (I can’t even stand going to the grocery store, because I detest the whole mask thing, and anyone who says it’s just a mask, I question your ability to critically think) but I will not give up.

  15. Nailed it, they need to play! I have two daughters heading back to college in Tennessee tomorrow, both are D2 lacrosse players and I am so thankful that their college does NOT have a football team! There sports are funded by some serious benefactors and not football! Ironically, most colleges, decided to not let the fall athletes know about canceling other sports until about two days ago, or a week after TUITION was due!

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