Delay of Games: College Football Should Wait

The University of Notre Dame has had more than 400 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including eleven football players. The University of North Carolina, after one week of in-person classes, shut down the campus and switched to online only courses.

And schools want to play college football this fall? Good luck with that.

This coronavirus pandemic changed everyday life. But this country doesn’t give up. That’s why, after being shut down for four months, pro sports came back.

But it wasn’t business as usual. Vigorous testing. No fans in attendance. Playing in bubbles (or a wubble, the WNBA’s sobriquet). And it wasn’t without hiccups, as Major League Baseball can attest to.

But overall, pro sports has worked. The NBA and NHL, playing in tightly controlled environments, had zero positive tests within their bubbles. MLB, after the Miami Marlins outbreak one week into the season, remains determined and kept playing. Yes, there have been 41 postponed games due to COVID-19 through September 3rd, but baseball finishing the season feels possible now.

After viewing the success at the pro level, schools and universities believe they can do the same thing.

Pump them brakes, y’all. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Ostensibly these college programs have been watching what’s been happening with the major leagues. And likely taking notes, learning what lessons the other leagues learned and applying it to their programs.

But the one league college football could learn the most from hasn’t played an official game yet – the NFL. So instead of rushing to bring college football back, why not wait and see what happens with pro football? Any problems the NFL encounters, the NCAA can learn from them and make the adjustments the NFL makes because those would work best when applied to the “amateur” version.

Since 37 Clemson football players tested positive back in July, the Tigers have remained infection free as of August 21st, thankfully.

Any maybe Clemson’s experience is part of why coaches, players, and university leaders believe they can bring fall sports, most importantly football, back.

Then Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt cancelled last Friday’s practice after, “a few more positive tests.” It’s the second time he shut down practice after some positive tests.

The claim made by coaches and players is being on campus within the athletics bubble might be the safest place for these players to be. And maybe they’re right, as we’ve seen how successful the NBA and NHL seasons have been.

But are the athletes and coaches living in the athletic department? No.

Maybe they can create a sanitized bubble within the athletic department, but once the players and coaches leave that bubble, which happens daily, the outside variables exponentially increase the degree of difficulty.

Think of the number of people needed to competently run a college football program. That alone would make keeping the bubble sanitized hard. But how would the players maintain social distancing while away from the program? Is that possible if in-person classes are taking place? Are the players mature enough to avoid group functions?

And what would traveling to a road game look like? Just the players and coaches alone could exceed 100 people traveling. They still need athletic trainers and people taking care of the equipment. Wouldn’t the traveling party exceed 125 people?

What would it cost to transport everyone? Some airlines aren’t booking flights to full capacity right now. Same thing with buses.

If they’re traveling commercial, going through the terminals is another social distancing obstacle course.

Certainly there are some people within college athletics that could figure out a safe way to do all that. But it would be a lot easier to copy the NFL’s plan.

Let the NFL kickoff first. Wait and watch to see how they do things. If the NFL has an outbreak, observe how the NFL adjusts to it. If the NFL postpones/cancels games along the way, the NCAA has to admit they might have to do the same thing.

How long should the NCAA wait? Spring football is an idea that was floated. The SWAC scheduled their season in the spring. What other conferences will join them?

Many players and coaches vehemently oppose the idea. Waiting that long would mean the end of the college careers of NFL-caliber prospects. The players don’t want to miss a final season and coaches don’t want to play without some of their best players.

But if player safety is really their priority, then waiting until they have a complete plan and the knowledge of how the NFL executed theirs is the safest route, even if the coaches and players aren’t happy with it.

This past Saturday the first college football game was played Central Arkansas and Austin Peay. Congratulations. Now let’s see what happens after two weeks. If the two schools report zero positive tests, then hats off to them and the NCAA. Their plan might actually work.

But if there’s an outbreak, the best thing to do would be to pause the season and take a close look and the NFL. Maybe there’s a detail colleges missed that they can learn from the pros.

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