It is not hyperbole to say that the past week was the saddest week in the history of college athletics. While most of it was unsurprising, it was all pretty depressing for everyone involved. There are a million different tentacles to all the news and decisions that were, or weren’t, made over the last week so we won’t go into all of them. However, we will dive into a few things that stuck out to us.
When the NCAA announced its requirements to safely play fall sports on August 5, it was criticized for taking too long, not waiting, putting requirements forth that are difficult for people to meet, for not making any decision and for giving Duke too easy of a region in the 2010 Men’s Basketball tournament. So, perhaps we were the lone voice at the time for the last one, but you can see the type of predicament the NCAA faces any time a global pandemic takes place.
So, despite facing something that literally hasn’t happened in 100 years, and having an infrastructure that essentially precludes it from making unilateral decisions, the NCAA put out its requirements for how to safely hold fall competitions, and decided that each Division should make its own decisions on Fall Sports Championships since, you know, things are a little different for the ODAC than the SEC. Candidly, those seem like exactly what a governing body that is comprised of schools of all shapes and sizes should do.
Many people working at mid-major level schools were frustrated that the NCAA put the decision back on them. After years of complaining that the Power 5 has all the influence, these same schools were now complaining because they have the ability to make their own decision. Frankly, that provided a better chance of being able to play than if the NCAA had made a unilateral decision. If it was up to Mark Emmert, he would cancel everything because that is what the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer would recommend. So, for the schools out there who hear that recommendation, but decide they can meet the testing requirements and still want to play, they are able to do so.
We heard an argument that the testing requirements were too costly and not feasible because of the lack of availability of testing that provides results in a timely fashion. Well, last we checked, the NCAA wasn’t responsible for coordinating a national supply chain for COVID-19. In fact, last we checked, no one was claiming responsibility for doing that, which is why we have this problem.
So, with the NCAA’s requirements set forth, individual conferences began making their own decisions. The NCAA Division 1 conference structure allows for many great things for the schools involved and brings together schools and communities from across a region – or in some cases, several regions. While in most instances, this diversity is a positive for the conferences, when dealing with a novel coronavirus, it makes things a little tricky. Let’s take our friends in the ACC for example. Syracuse is a relatively new, but proud member of the ACC. Syracuse is in the state of New York. Currently, if you travel to the state of New York from numerous states you are required to quarantine. Among the states listed are Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. Hope Syracuse enjoys playing a 2-game season with Boston College and Pitt! They might win the league!
Now, we’re sure Andrew Cuomo would bend the rules for some football games – he’s been pretty relaxed about this whole deal from the beginning. But you can see where some issues might arise when you have schools in different cities and states with drastically different spread and mitigation efforts.
As we scour the college athletics landscape on August 16, every FCS conference, 2 Group of 5 conferences and 2 Power 5 conferences have postponed fall sports. There is plenty of drama to go around, as one would expect from the Power 5 Conferences, but the most interesting to us is the case of the Big Ten, which finds itself in an interesting position here on Sunday afternoon. Let me explain. No, it’s too much. Let me sum up.
Parents of football players at a few Big Ten schools have sent angry letters to the Big Ten office stating that they want their kids to play football. Pretty sure Karen signed all the letters.
While we agree that transparency is important in this process, and the Big Ten releasing a schedule and then cancelling the season less than a week later was a terrible decision, allow us some time to vent about parents sending angry letters to the league office.
- You wanted leadership, then the leaders made a decision that you didn’t like. Suck it up.
- Is this a middle school football league? Or Division 1 athletics?
- Were these parents claiming they would sign a waiver complaining when the schools were asking their athletes to sign waivers, which raised the ire of the NCAA and ultimately that practice was banned?
- Would these parents like to see their children receive greater financial compensation for their son’s participation in Big Ten football? Have they ever complained that their sons were being extorted? What would they say when they are sent out to play a football game, against the advice of the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer, with no fans in the stands, but on TV so the university their son attends still receives its $60 million from the Big Ten’s TV contract?
- Do you have any idea how important football is to the lifeblood of a Big Ten university? You think they would just cancel the season because of some political agenda? The decision is financially catastrophic to the athletic department and the local community of each of these universities. So, they make a decision that they believe is in the best interest of your child’s health despite the severe financial consequences, and you’re angry about it?
Ultimately, the angry letter from the PTA is unlikely to change anything at the league office. The recently approved Saliva test that is a more affordable way to get fast, reliable test results is the best hope currently for the conferences that are still attempting to play fall sports. Because you know what’s not going to help the conferences that are still attempting to play fall sports? Campuses full of students.
Even with the decisions that were made across college athletics last week, there is no rest for the weary. With classes starting on many campuses in the next couple weeks, it will be interesting to see how the spread of the virus on those campuses affects the decision-making of the campus and conference leadership. There will cases…many, many cases because college students, while a collection of some of the brightest young minds anywhere in the world, are, as a general rule, a collection of idiots. The pseudo-bubbles that many athletic departments were able to create over the summer will be popped shortly. How does the campus respond?
A very valid argument can be made that gathering students on campus to live in dorms, eat in dining halls, attend classes and socialize is a far more dangerous combination for the spread of COVID than playing a football or soccer game. Again, for all the blame that the NCAA, or conference offices, are taking at the moment, they are not charged with overseeing how to run an entire university. They are charged with providing leadership for college sports. And while they certainly have made plenty of mistakes over the years and have made some mistakes in certain elements of their handling of COVID, our ire isn’t directed in their direction. Each conference is doing what they feel best under the requirements set forth by the governing body, who set those requirements based on medical and scientific advice. Maybe we’re naïve, but that’s about all we can ask.
So, where do things go from here? Great question – thanks for asking. We have no f’n clue, but since the internet is full of people making claims about things they have no clue about, we figured we’d join in. Here are three predictions for the upcoming football season:
- Only the SEC and Big 12 conferences will make it to “Week 1” and play games
As we mentioned, the ACC has a greater regional diversity among its schools, and ultimately, we think that will be the critical factor in their decision. Already this weekend, sources tell us there were two “clusters” of cases in dorms at UNC. And by sources, we mean the twitter feed of He’s Not Here. And if He’s Not Here closes, you know there’s a problem. At least we can rest easy knowing Time Out will be open. Meanwhile, the Group of 5 schools and conferences still trying to play will realize their medical and financial situation actually align around the decision to postpone. UCF will still claim a national championship.
- No college football team will play their full schedule
Approximately 60 schools at the FBS level are still planning to play fall sports as of this writing. 0 of them will play the full complement of games that are currently on their schedule. Whether it’s because they have Liberty, who took the NCAA requirements and said “Nah, we’re good” won’t be able to play, or because 12 guys test positive the day before a game or because their parents wrote an angry letter, nobody is playing a full schedule. Oh, and if there was ever a year
- Spring is gonna be AWESOME.
Unless, you know, if you work in college athletics. For all you people with non-coaching jobs in college sports, enjoy having some free time this fall, because you’re going to be working 13 days/week this spring. But, if you’re a fan, or happen to write a sports blog, you won’t be yearning for content. Many people who we respect and trust say it can’t be done, but let’s be optimistic.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a million tentacles to the news of the past week that we haven’t even attempted to discuss because we’re guessing this won’t be our only opportunity. Did we mention that the NCAA technically has no jurisdiction over FBS football and how it crowns a champion? How about the name, image and likeness rulings that will continue to come out? Maybe we can get some more members of Congress to get involved with college athletics? While we like to make light of the hot take world we currently live in, here’s a semi-hot take we’ll stand by:
By the time college athletics at the Power 5 level return to normal post-COVID, the NCAA and its structure will be transformed. Will the Power 5 break away? Will Mark Emmert lose his job? Will there be conference realignment that actually aligns regionally? Will student-athletes be paid? Will some schools shut down their athletic departments? Will we be able to keep up this blog for another 5 months until college sports actually happen?
In the meantime, how about we all put on a mask and stay six feet away from others?