Woo boy, today has been a roller coaster of emotions. It started with the news that the MAC has canceled fall football and intends to hold a spring season. Then we had Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reporting that the Big Ten presidents were meeting on Saturday and could move to cancel the league’s recently rescheduled fall season.
Source: Big Ten presidents are meeting today. All options are on the table. There's some presidential momentum for canceling the fall football season. It's unknown if there's enough support to make that decision today.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 8, 2020
We later learned that this was a meeting that had already been on the books, and was not an emergency meeting to address the prospect of canceling the season. However, shortly after Thamel’s report, the B1G itself released a statement in which it slowed down its preseason schedule, despite the fact that teams had already begun practices.
In their statement, the league office said that for the time being, all teams must remain in the “acclimatization period” of practices, which means that players can workout in helmets, but not in pads.
The B1G closed their statement with a fairly ominous reminder, the emphasis added is ine. “We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all. As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.”
But that wasn’t it, as it is now being widely reported that new B1G commissioner Kevin Warren is in favor of pushing the season to the spring, a move that would essentially end Ohio State’s title chances as there would likely be a mass exodus for the NFL.
Today’s events have brought up a lot of conflicting emotions for me, which have long been bubbling just beneath the surface as I navigated the implications of this pandemic on college football, and that I have more or less been consciously ignoring.
Not only am a borderline obsessive college football fan as well as a columnist and podcaster here at LGHL, but I’m also someone who believes that we as a nation have not done nearly enough to curb the coronavirus’ spread, and generally believes that college athletes (especially in DI football) are exploited in a cartel-like money-making scheme in which the NCAA and universities generally default to doing the absolute bare-minimum for players while raking in billions of dollars for themselves.
So, I’m torn. In the words of Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself.” As this pandemic has spread, I have adamantly believed that nearly everything needs to be shut down temporarily so that we could minimize the spread as most other developed nations have done; that includes schools, sports, arts (where I make most of my living), restaurants, etc. That has happened in small doses around the country, but obviously not for long enough to make the necessary difference.
So from that perspective, I should be in favor of all college sports shutting down their seasons until it is scientifically safe to resume. But part of me — perhaps my ego that is so tied to the success of my alma mater’s football team — won’t let me completely make that jump, despite the fact that my head knows that it would be the safest thing for all involved, and that my heart hurts for all of those impacted by the virus thus far.
If we were talking about professional sports, I would have a completely different opinion. As the NWSL, NBA, MLS, and NHL have proven, putting teams in a bubble and having strict testing and quarantining protocol in place actually works (so much so that I wish that our government had adopted something similar as experts were advising in February and March).
But the thing is, you can do all of that with professional athletes, even in sports where the minimum salary isn’t hundreds of thousands of dollars. People make sacrifices for their jobs that keep them away from their families, put them through medical testing, and require them to be in danger all of the time. So, with generous opt-out policies in place, while I have a bit of an issue with how many resources are being used to keep these leagues going that could otherwise benefit the community at large, I am more or less comfortable with pro sports returning if that return is handled responsibly (looking at you and your bungled restart, MLB).
But it’s different with college sports. You can’t quarantine the entire B1G in Indianapolis or Chicago or Minneapolis or wherever. Even with online classes, the idea of forcing unpaid athletes to spend three months in a hotel just to play some games for other people to make millions of dollars off of isn’t going to fly — even though that would be much safer for the players than the protocols that are currently in place.
Despite knowing all of that, my inherent fandom still wants to see a season — however shortened it might be. While I could rationalize this by talking about the fact that the players feel safe and want to play (more on that tomorrow or Monday), or that this is an opportunity for many of them to not only live out their dreams, but also to potentially set themselves up financially in the future; all of that would just be a cover for my very simplistic, selfish desire: I want to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play football this fall with Justin Fields, Shaun Wade, Chris Olave, Wyatt Davis, et al. in uniform one more time.
Until this week, I had been fairly cynical about whether or not there would or should be college football this fall. I refused to get my hopes up, because I could see that things were trending towards the worst case scenarios of at least the season being pushed back to the spring — which would likely mean that all of the players that I mentioned above, and probably more, would opt out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
But when the Big Ten released the updated conference-only schedule on Wednesday, I got extremely excited despite myself. The rush of anticipation that I normally start feeling in mid-June finally pushed its way through all of the negativity and I let my guard down and allowed myself to pretend that the reality in which we are living had somehow evaporated with the release of a single 10-game schedule.
However, that is not our reality. We are still dealing with a global pandemic that is killing roughly 1,200 people a day in our country, and as important as college football is to millions of people (myself and, even more so, the players included), I know that it’s ultimately not worth risking — and inevitably sacrificing — the lives of otherwise healthy young men. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still want a miracle to happen and all of the stars to align in order to allow us to revel in the pageantry that is the greatest sport in the world this fall.
So I have had to become comfortable sitting with the fact that I simultaneously want two mutually exclusive things to happen; there to not be a college football season this fall, and for there to be a college football season this fall. Life — and especially times of trauma and tragedy — is about navigating a maze of seemingly incongruous ideas, and finding a way to accept an outcome that you have no hand in shaping.
Therefore, despite the straw men that certain sports talking heads like to use as a crutch to explain away the realists in the media who candidly discuss the dire situation at hand, I am not rooting for the virus, I am not rooting against college football. I am rooting for safety, sanity, a return to the field, and for the Buckeyes to hang 100 on TTUN.
From the first official day of preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends, I will be posting a column every single day. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!