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Column: We should prepare ourselves for a fall without football

Better to protect your heart now than to be blindsided with the worst possible news later.

Maryland v Ohio State

You know when you were a kid, and there was one special thing that you desperately wanted for your birthday; whether it was a new bike, or a pony, or a video game system, or a Red Ryder BB gun. You dreamt about the specifics of that new bike, you knew how the handlebars would feel. You could see the exact color of the pony’s mane; you visualized playing all of the coolest games on the console; you could already hear the pop that the gun would make.

And yet, when your birthday rolled around, your parents had done their best, but what they got you was a semi-reasonable facsimile of what you had asked, hoped, and dreamed for, but it just wasn’t quite right to one degree or another; or worse yet, they got you something completely different. The bike’s seat hurt your butt; the pony ended being a hamster, because where were you going to keep a pony?; instead of the newest Playstation, you got one of those things they sell at Walmart that plugs into your TV and you can play old games like “Pac-Man” and “Galaga;” or they said that there was no way that you’re getting a Red Ryder BB gun, because you’ll shoot your eye out.

The disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness that you felt was overwhelming. You didn’t understand how you could be denied something that you wanted so much, something that you had dreamt about and had been anticipating for so long. Maybe your parents had even dropped some hints that got you even more excited, but in the end either you didn’t get what you wanted at all, or what you unwrapped in its place was an underwhelming version of what you had hoped for.

Well, friends, I think that we very well might need to get used to that kind of disappointment and sadness again very soon, because I am starting to think that the college football season is not going to happen, at least not in the form that we have grown to know and love. Now, don’t get me wrong, I want the college football season to happen, you want the college football season to happen, we all want the college football season to happen, but the closer and closer that we get to when it would start, the less convinced I am that it actually will.

I don’t think that it will surprise you when I say that I am neither an epidemiologist, public health official, university administrator, nor elected office holder, so I don’t say this from any particular insight into decisions that are being made, or any expertise on what should or shouldn’t be done to combat the coronavirus. Instead, I simply say this as a fan who has Twitter and has witnessed enough PR crises to know that this is going to be a rocky month.

This past week, the NCAA approved a plan for preseason camps to begin on July 13, assuming that a team’s first game is on Sept. 5. That means that we are just over three weeks away from what would theoretically be the the start of college football. But, as that date approaches, there are more and more red flags popping up that lead me to worry about whether or not that start date is going to hold.

Clemson has had 23 players diagnosed with COVID-19, Texas has had 13 players infected, Houston shutdown voluntary workouts after six players were diagnosed, UCLA players are demanding better health protections, the NFLPA’s medical director is advising players to stop working out in groups. All of these things — and many more — put a whole lot of doubt on the ability for colleges across the country to start practicing in a few weeks more or less like they would have during the before times.

If these mid-July practices do actually begin as scheduled, they would kick off in the middle of the Salt Lake City-isolated NWSL Challenge Cup and The Basketball Tournament’s fully-quarantined tourney in Columbus. They would start just after the MLS’s return in Orlando, but before the NBA resumes its season in the same Disney bubble just down the street from my house. See a trend?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that it would be difficult to have a football season without employing a bubble as well, and the NFL seems to agree with him, at least in theory. But how do you bubblefy college football?

There are 130 teams in the FBS, and — lest we forget — these are unpaid college students, so it doesn’t seem likely that they would quarantine all FBS players — or even a single conference’s players — in one spot just to play the games, so the idea of a college football bubble is probably out the window.

So, what do they do instead? I certainly don’t have the answers, but as we inch closer to when those decisions need to be made, it seems like things are still very much up in the air. Lettermen Row’s Austin Ward tweeted this week that a conference-only slate could be on the table, and the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein — one of the most respected college football reporters in the business — said that his reporting indicates that the possibility of there being a season this fall is only at about 50/50 right now.

For about a month, it felt like things were on track for us to not only have college football this fall, but to have it in something that fairly closely resembled what we are used to. Students were being allowed back on campuses for the fall, we were talking about what the appropriate number of fans allowed in stadiums would be, people were getting excited after having previously prepared themselves for the worst.

Now, I’m not predicting that college football won’t happen in the fall, and I’m not saying that we won’t have a full season as planned, but what I am saying is that we should start protecting our hearts against those possibilities. While universities and their athletic departments desperately need the revenue generated by football, what they also don’t need is being held liable (either financially, morally, or public relationsly) for the potential increased spread of a disease that has already killed over 121,000 people in our country alone in about three months.

We are in for a wild few weeks as July 13 approaches and details are hammered out, but I urge you to lower your expectations. Start preparing yourself not to get the birthday present of your dreams; come to terms with getting a hamster instead of a pony, to playing “Donky Kong” instead of “The Last of Us Part II.” Hopefully that way you won’t be disappointed, and perhaps could even be pleasantly surprised.