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Three Reasons You Could Have a College Football Season

And one very big reason you can’t.



If you were on social media on Monday, you undoubtedly saw a lot of freaking out about the Marlins, Phillies, Yankees and the future of the MLB season. There was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the Marlins players — which is obviously not good — and a lot of consternation over where exactly to go from there.

Every sport that has attempted or will attempt to come back either has experienced this moment or will in the near future, college football included. For the PGA Tour — the sport I cover on a daily basis — it happened at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut at the end of June. A handful of players dropped out of the tournament (including big names like Brooks Koepka) because of positive COVID-19 tests either personally or in their camps (Koepka’s caddie tested positive). There were cries to re-cancel the season, but the Tour went the other way, tightened things down and pressed forward. Cases are down, interest is up and the first major championship of the season is next week in San Francisco (without fans, but still).

The constant posturing by, well, everyone, is not helpful and borders on the problematic. I saw a lot of “you can’t do sports that aren’t in a bubble” talk on Monday after the MLB issue, which is just not true. Golf is currently doing it. Has been doing it for nearly two months with very limited cases. The caveat here is that golfers travel very differently than a 30- 40- or 50-person baseball club (or football team). They are more on their own and less intimately exposed to the virus than a traveling team both on and off the field. That part matters and shouldn’t go without saying.

The other caveat here — and I think this is the even bigger one and could potentially be the breaking point for college football — is that both PGA Tour pros and MLB pros are, you know, pros. They have at least some form of representation as it relates to workplace safety, and (maybe more importantly) many of them have enough money that they can sit out the season with few repercussions if they don’t think it’s safe enough to play. Theoretically, so could a college football player, but that point almost doesn’t matter. What does matter is the optics, the wisdom and the legality (?) of a university running amateurs out there for the sake of getting the season in and even a single one of those amateurs getting seriously sick, being hospitalized or even dying.

Risks are inherent in college football, we’re all aware of that, players included. And I would imagine 99.9% of them want to play, virus or no virus (I would have when I was 19 or 20). But the reckoning schools are having with reality (that football players are kinda sorta professionals) and with the other reality (that you can’t roll amateurs out in front of a virus just “because there’s a lot of money at stake”) is a hell of a place to be. I don’t envy any high-level decision-making administrator or president over the next few weeks.

Anyway, those clauses aside, here are three reasons that — if you can reconcile the “pros but not really pros” thing — you can have a college football season.

1. Testing upgrades: Say whatever you want about schools releasing test results from their athletes, it’s clear that all of the Power 5 schools are taking testing, quarantining and planning very seriously. This is how it has to go and has been going. OSU has been really good on this in terms of how often and how thoroughly it has been testing. As with any life endeavor, more information is going to lead to better decision-making. You can’t possibly spend too much money on testing this fall if you’re an athletic department. This — among other reasons — is a big reason everything got shut down back in March. No information, no legit testing and no idea about how to proceed forward led to canceling sports for over three months.

2. Time: I’ll have more on this later with an email that was sent to me earlier this week, but you actually have time on your side here. If you start the season at the beginning of September, you can build in bye weeks and adapt as you go. You might not be able to hold a spring season, but you can certainly play into the spring a little bit just to get the whole thing (or at least part of the whole thing) in. Again, golf. The U.S. Open got bumped to September, and the Masters to November. Not ideal, but they adapted to what’s going on and will get this year’s version in under the wire.

3. Societal norms: To me, a lot of this is a story about what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. That might be right or it might be wrong, but I think it’s true. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more OK we will become with living virus-adjacent. Again, you can personally believe this is good or personally believe it’s bad, but I don’t think it changes the reality. And if that’s the reality, then it will only get easier (not harder) to justify having a college football season (or any season). Some of the reason this is a debate is because of how new everything is (and feels). What if this virus had been around for 10 years? (Hopefully we would have not been morons and figured out how to stamp it out by then but …) would we still be debating whether there should be sports? I think as a society we would have adapted to the risks. Again, I’m not saying this is a good thing, only that it’s likely a reality!

There are 1 billion ways to view all of this (and you can see them all on Twitter dot com!), and I’ve struggled to know what the right, wise viewpoint is both personally and professionally. I don’t know. I really don’t. I long for normal, but I also long for wisdom. I don’t want to be foolish, but I also don’t want to live in fear for years and years and years. I think you can have a season (though I don’t know if you should) if you can reconcile the amateur/professional thing (which I also don’t know that you should do). Maybe that’s by signing waivers or creating some sort of representation for players in this whole debate, I don’t know.

What I do know is that even if there is a season, it’s going to be messy and there will be backlash and frustration and anger and fear. It’s no way to operate as a culture, but it’s where we’re at right now and what we’ll have to navigate for the foreseeable future.

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