Back in April or May when I was scrolling through Twitter, I saw multiple tweets saying the coronavirus can have college basketball and March Madness, but please do not take away college football.
Well, we’re midway through July, and college football’s outcome is uncertain with a cloudy future.
Colleges will begin school in August — via in-person, online and in-person or online only learning — and that should mean the beginning of college fall sports.
But does it?
The NBA, WNBA, MLS, NWSL, NHL and MLB have all struggled to find a way to get back onto the field and compete because of either the coronavirus pandemic or disagreements among owners and players. Or both.
Players, coaches, support staffs and other personnel needed to play in those respective leagues had several months to prepare and try to keep everyone in a bubble. Whether it will work remains to be seen as the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB resume or start their seasons at the end of July and beginning of August. Even the NFL might struggle to get off the ground when we get closer to the end of July.
The NCAA, the Power 5 Conferences and other conferences feel like they need to be in a wait-and-see mode. While this is helpful to determine their seasons, it isn’t necessarily an effective solution. All groups should be proactive in getting ahead of the pandemic and not merely reacting to the situation.
The Ivy League and the Patriot League already have canceled all fall sports. The Big 10 and Pac-12 will not play non-conference football games. Other conferences are supposed to make their decisions soon.
The NCAA announced Thursday if games can be played, college athletes should be tested for the coronavirus no more than 72 hours before the play. Players who have high-risk exposures to COVID-19 should be quarantined for 14 days. Additionally, everyone who is on the sidelines should wear a mask.
“This document lays out the advice of health care professionals as to how to resume college sports if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”
Emmert also warned the situation could change if the rise in cases doesn’t slow down.
This whole situation has two terrible aspects for college athletics that don’t necessarily affect professional sports as much.
1. College fall sports cannot have a bubble. Every team can’t gather in one to three cities to play an entire season.
College athletics also have more than one sport playing during the fall semester. Even sports such as men’s and women’s tennis whose regular seasons begin during the spring semester are supposed to play in tournaments, invitationals and other college athletic events during the fall semester.
Colleges also have schools such as the University of Notre Dame, Army, New Mexico State and others that don’t belong to a conference. If other conferences aren’t going to play non-conference games, how are the independent schools supposed to play their seasons?
2. Money. And yes, it does come down to money because everyone has a bottom line, no matter what.
Universities already are seeing and feeling the impact the coronavirus has had on their college athletic departments. Schools are cutting sports and shrinking athletic department personnel to save money.
Not only does this suck, but it is also disrupting the lives of countless people who probably never dreamed this would happen to them. These student-athletes now have to find new schools to continue playing their respective sports or stop playing at the collegiate level.
Of course, professional sports are being affected by not having the same revenue stream — just take a look at the MLB’s minor league teams — but all major sports leagues should find one way or another to continue surviving until the situation gets better.
Finally, I still look back and think about how I graduated in 2019. I am so thankful to this day that switching my major from journalism to public relations didn’t set me back a year like I originally thought it would. Because I was able to graduate on time, my senior year and graduation weren’t disrupted because of the coronavirus.
Imagine being a college student who is also a college athlete and having to maintain your focus on your education while also finding out your sport has been cut from the university you’re attending.
The NCAA and its members need to sit down sooner or later and figure out if a) it’s worth playing college football; and b) whether to play college football in the fall semester or bump it to the spring semester, which should lead to c) what should happen to the other fall sports.
Either way, whatever the final decision is won’t be ideal, and it will need many backup scenarios to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic’s constantly changing nature. If the NCAA and its members make a decision sooner rather than later though, it should help better prepare them down the road with this murky future.