Tramel: What are we doing? How could college football possibly be played this fall?
I had the television off, my head down and my fingers working feverishly, typing out a really cool basketball story that now will have to wait.
My sports editor, Jeff Patterson, who seems to love college football as much as the rest of us even though he’s from Kentucky, texted: “Have you heard all the football news”?
The only answer to that is, obviously not.
A quick jump into the interwebs revealed that the Mid-American Conference pushed everything to the spring. The Missouri Valley Conference did the same but said its members could play non-conference games, apparently so Missouri State could play in Norman on some Saturday soon. Players from the American Athletic Conference, of which Tulsa is a member, are demanding “hazard pay,” taking their cue from the Pac-12 and Big Ten solidarity movement.
At some point, don’t we have to stop and ask, what are we doing? College football’s major universities are clinging to the rope of hope, trying to keep the sport from drifting down river. Trying to save an autumn season.
And maybe the season can be started while the leaves are on the trees and played while they are falling. But should it be?
We know why the Big 12 and SEC and other Power 5 conferences are working towards a fall season. Because the athletic budgets need the money and the fans need the fix.
Both valid reasons. Nobody wants to see an athletic department go belly up, and nobody wants to see me go cuckoo, which is what I’ll be if Owen Field and Boone Pickens Stadium are empty in September, October and November.
- Related to this story
- Article: College football notebook: Mid-American Conference cancels fall football due to virus
- Article: After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other college leagues follow?
- Article: OU football: Sooners pause training camp with season start date uncertain
- Article: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says conference has made no decision on fall football season yet
But do the players even want to play? Oh, I know. Many do. Maybe the majority does. But we’ve seen a rash of NFL prospects already opt out of this season, and we’ll see more. We’ve seen player uprisings all over the country, declaring their apprehension about safety protocols. We’ve seen questions about the long-term affects of the virus, even when victims aren’t that ill initially.
COVID-19 still blows strong in America, and it could get worse quickly, since campuses are about to open up for returning students.
Norman mayor Breea Clark reported that she toured OU’s Campus Corner establishments Thursday night, just to get a sense for how much care students were taking with the pandemic. She said there were very few masks, which is bad, and little social distancing, which is worse.
Remember four months ago, when college football leaders said there would be no games unless students were back on campus? Now, that might be the only way we could see football. If the students stay away.
The entire episode is a terrible look for the NCAA. Long before the virus and the protests in this wrinkle-in-time year of 2020, student-athlete exploitation was a rising issue. Ballplayers were rallying for new rights and making inroads. They were the little engine that could. Now they’re a runaway locomotive, and that train isn’t coming back to the station.
Fullbacks and linebackers aren’t going to automatically show up and do what they’re told, just so we can watch Bedlam or the Iron Bowl. Athletes are getting pulled in a lot of directions, some of which I disagree with, but either way, they’ve gone from getting pulled to pulling themselves.
Hey, they’re saying, if we’re going to all this trouble, with potential hazards to family, just to keep the money flowing, where’s my money?
Mike Gundy was foolish for what he said back in April, but he wasn’t wrong. College football is an economic engine, and the players want part of the cut.
They look to the NBA, which has a bubble and big paychecks. They look to baseball, which has no bubble and big paychecks. They look in the mirror and see neither bubble nor paycheck.
This is seamier than even high school football. If the Friday Night Lights get turned on, they will shine for reasons that aren’t exactly noble – people in and out of pads want their high school football because they want it – but at least are more magnanimous than what the colleges are doing. High school football won’t be doing it for the money.
I don’t see how universities pull it off. I mean, I’m writing this on August 8, OU is scheduled to host Missouri State on August 29 and no one has any idea if or when that game will be played.
I’m sure the Southeastern Conference will be the last bastion. The SEC will scrap the season, or move it to the spring, when you pry its state governors’ cold, dead fingers off the pigskin.
But it seems inevitable. It seems immoral to play on.
Did you see the state plan announced the other day by Gov. Kevin Stitt? Once-a-month testing for schoolteachers.
Once a month? What good does that do anybody?
We’re going to test tight ends and cornerbacks a couple of times a week, but reading specialists and speech pathologists once a month? That’s not a defensible position.
I don’t know if college football can play in the spring. That’s six months away. A lot can happen in six months. Six months ago today, COVID-19 sounded like maybe an Alex Grinch blitz.
But who knows? Maybe there will be improved treatment. Maybe there will be a vaccine. Maybe America will rediscover its soul and its intellect and listen to medical authorities. Maybe we’ll fight the virus with the spirit with which we fought Japan and Germany eight decades ago.
Until then, I don’t see how we try to play college football.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.