College football will likely not be played this fall. The MAC punted their season yesterday, and the Big 10 in likely to say adios tomorrow, according to reports. And that is bad news for everyone.
Conversely, Big 10 universities plan of being open for business. Yes, the dorms, frats, and sororities will be filled with 18-to-22-year-olds who may or may not adhere to suggestions they socially distance themselves from one another. It’s been a few years since I lived in a dorm, but the instances of responsible behavior are scarce in my memory, while the irresponsible moments are plentiful.
One of the primary reasons cited for canceling college football is that trusting students to adhere to protocols seemed a bad bet. Okay, so athletes in the dorm are going to throw caution to the wind occasionally in order to enjoy college life, and so will other students. That’s a given. But if the idea is to control the spread of COVID-19, why would universities cancel sports while allowing students, including athletes, to stay in the dorm?
I’m a fan of rationalizations, but how is moving sports from the fall going to keep students safer as long as the very thing that smart people worried would corrupt football from being played is allowed?
None of this makes any sense, but that’s nothing new.
After a couple of centuries where we cared about very little, care runs deep about every single slight suffered by anyone. While that is a great thing in many cases, it can be overplayed in others. COVID-19 is hardly the biggest concern for many football players.
Football is an insanely dangerous activity where knees are destroyed in virtual every game, and the long-term effects of brain injuries are wretched, irreversible, and sometimes fatal. I once asked a Pro Bowl defensive tackle what he thought about when he was in the tunnel before taking the field. He said, “I think ‘This might be the last time I walk.'”
COVID-19 is serious stuff and is not to be taken lightly, but the potential miseries from football are far worse. It’s very important that we wear masks, wash our hands, sanitize, and keep those with underlying conditions isolated, but if COVID-19 caused problems in the same measure football does, we would hide in our basements and never come out!
Smart people know that talk about fall sports being canceled is about limiting liability rather than actual concern over safety, and that’s fine. If the priority was safety, football would not exist. The first responsibility for all executives is to mitigate risk of lawsuits and protect the brands they lead from media-driven taint. Given that COVID-19 leads all newscasts, a player suffering long-term damage or – God forbid – death would stain a university and college basketball for years.
There is nothing left to do but await the decision and announcement that football will not be played in college towns that rely upon those game days to fund their businesses and feed their families.
The ongoing challenge with COVID-19 is to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease, and for towns like Bloomington, West Lafayette, South Bend, Knoxville, Morgantown, College Station, Athens, Gainesville, Baton Rouge, Ann Arbor, and dozens, a seriously flawed cure is about to cause as much pain as it resolves.