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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.