The kids want to play.
And of course they do. It’s what many of them have worked their entire lives towards to this point — the opportunity to play collegiate football and potentially do enough to make their ability into a lucrative career.
It’s also what they love. What motivates them. What gives them a chance at an education. For some, even, what feeds and houses them.
They want to play.
But it won’t be the players making the decisions in the coming hours, days, and weeks — it will be the adults; powerful people in Athletic Departments and Executive Offices across college campuses throughout the country as they weigh the risk/reward of pushing forward with a College Football season that seems doomed from the start.
It feels like it almost has to be said: these are unprecedented times.
And while that remains true, the NCAA has known for coming on six months now that the world was ensconced in a global pandemic and that signs were pointing toward that being the case by the time fall camps were supposed to open. But, instead of uniting toward a common goal, the leaders of each conference — and sometimes each school — operated independently of each other, thinking of what they wanted instead of what might work for the common good (kind of like what we have seen here). It has made for a convoluted mess of decision making that has been neither productive nor persistent, and leaves us, as we approach the middle of August, with just as many questions as we had in the middle of May.
But now, as we hear that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are on the verge of forgoing fall football altogether, another epidemic is upon the powers that be, and that’s (another) rise in player power and voices — this one led by one of the brightest stars in the sport, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence, a junior who is almost guaranteed to be the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has led the charge with the #wewanttoplay movement, a social media blitzkrieg that has been picked up by prominent players and prominent programs from every conference big and small. He has spoken out on twitter about the desire and need to play, not just for the love of the game but for the safety and security it provides to so many.
People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19 (1)— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 9, 2020
And he’s not wrong.
And as players speak up, so do coaches — touting the lack of positive tests in their programs over the last several weeks as they have formed practice bubbles on their campuses and conducted wide-spread testing within their programs. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and UNC’s Mack Brown have been among the most vocal, with the Wolverines having not had a positive test amongst the last 350+ administered and the Tarheels having bene virus-free for over a month. “We have developed a great prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play. If you are transparent and follow the rules, this is how it can be done,” Harbaugh said in a statement Monday.
And they are absolutely correct! College campuses, in the summer, are perfect mini-bubbles, akin to what both the NBA and NHL have successfully created. There are fewer “regular” students in town — especially with most campuses having shutdown in the spring and not yet re-opened for classes and dorm living — and far less distractions under the strict eyeballs of coaches and support staff. You can mostly keep your athletes from throwing parties (though we have seen that shutter sports like soccer at Louisville), eating at restaurants (though Jerry Kill of TCU believes he contracted COVID from doing just that earlier this summer), and otherwise unnecessarily exposing themselves when it’s just them on campus.
You wanna have students on campus but no football? There is no safer place on campus than our football facility , especially when students come back. #WeWantToPlay— Miller Forristall (@mcforristall) August 10, 2020
Sounds good, right?
But there is a little wrinkle... and it’s about to hit hard.
What happens when in-person classes start back up and students return to campuses?
Things have been relatively easy for the last few weeks of summer training; get kids to campus, keep kids at campus, threaten them within an inch of their lives if they take unnecessary risks and expose themselves. But soon, schools like TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, etc will open their doors and open the floodgates with tens of thousands of people living in dorms, sitting in classes, eating in cafeterias, etc. And, what is the football player supposed to do when he encounters them daily? Here’s what an Ole Miss official had to say when a concerned player brought that up:
“As un-fun as it sounds,” the official said, “the best thing that you can do is just try to encourage others to act more responsibly and not put yourself in those kinds of situations. I’m very comfortable with what we’ve done on campus. I’m concerned about what happens from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m.”
They want the football players to also be the RAs?
The easy answer would be to create student-athlete communities apart from campus life, to insulate them in separate dorms or off-campus apartments, to give them an online-only learning option, and to, well, treat them like professionals.
But the minute that you acknowledge that college athletes, and college football players especially, aren’t like regular students, you’re acknowledging that they aren’t like regular students and have a harder time arguing that room and board and tuition are enough compensation.
But that’s another conversation for another day.
For now, as of Tuesday, August 11th, this is what we know:
The Big Ten is expected to announce that they will cancel the 2020 season for the fall, with a potential spring season to be played instead.
Schools such as Nebraska, Ohio State, and others in the conference have discussed playing games outside of the league in order to have a semblance of a season this fall.
The Pac-12 is also expected to cancel, following the Big Ten’s lead. We have not heard from individual schools questioning that plan, as of yet.
The ACC’s stance has been “We are trying to move forward [with playing] absolutely,” according to at least one league official. Conference ADs and presidents met Monday evening on a conference call, and many left feeling confident their season would go on. For now.
As far as the SEC, they are going with a “business as usual” approach — where usual means a ten game conference schedule that begins at the end of September.
That leaves the Big 12 as the potential domino that could swing the whole thing; league officials will meet Tuesday meeting with a decision expected to be made as far as how to proceed for the time being. If the Big 12 elects to push forward, the likelihood of the SEC and ACC doing the same is high. Should they swing the majority to the delay camp, the other two conferences are apparently more likely to do the same.
We will know more this evening, but it’s sure to be a constantly changing narrative over the coming days and weeks regardless.