Get ready for an especially cold autumn with subdued fall foliage, rotting pumpkins and wormy apples. Halloween just turned hollow and Thanksgiving turkey with gravy might taste especially bland, too.
That’s what happens when a way of life disintegrates in the time it takes to say "aye" or whatever method the 14 presidents of Big Ten schools used on Tuesday in voting to cancel fall sports. (The Pac-12 followed suit soon after.)
My goodness how this will negatively impact a lot of people, beginning with athletes and extending to parents and coaches. Toss the support staff and media in there as well, including — ahem — writers. Top it off with millions of fans who comprise Buckeye Nation and you have one big heap of helplessness, with a side of sadness.
We all know people whose week is ruined after an Ohio State loss. What about losing a season? Coming up short again to Clemson is a rug burn compared to the searing pain of September Saturdays spent without their Buckeyes. Without their TBDBITL. And, yes, without having Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to mock.
I expect my neighbor Frankie, whose basement looks like Brutus designed it, to aimlessly wander the neighborhood while mumbling "This was our year."
Indeed it may have been. With Justin Fields at quarterback, the Buckeyes were a threat to win the national championship. It is unlikely the third-year QB stays through the spring; as a probably top-10 pick he would be wise to enter the NFL draft.
It’s not just Fields that fans must worry about, either. If the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences follow through on playing this fall, count on a dozen or more players from the Big Ten and Pac 12 to transfer into those conferences.
That will infuriate Ohio State fans like my buddy Brian Phillips, who already is demanding that Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren be fired. For the most rabid of Scarlet and Grayers, OSU football in the fall isn’t just a way of life. It is(ital) life.
Would Big Ten football feel the same in the spring? Yes and no. It is faulty logic to suggest that losing players to the draft destroys fans’ enthusiasm for their team. Remove Fields and fans will still attend games (if allowed) and watch on TV. The product might suffer, but not the fan support — as long as the team wins enough, which given the lack of depth in the Big Ten would not be an issue.
But spring football, while piquing interest as a one-off novelty act, would offer a sports rhythm so out of sync with our senses that I wonder how it would work. And that’s not counting the challenging logistics of trying to add a fall 2021 season on top of it. If presidents are all about safety now, how can they justify putting players at risk of injury by bruising their bodies without allowing time for sufficient recovery?
Basically, it’s a mess. I’m not blaming conference presidents for breaking the hearts of football players and athletes in cross country, soccer, volleyball and field hockey. Deep down, I have to think — or at least hope — that college administrators have their students’ best interests in mind when it comes to safety.
Perhaps a case could be made that football players are safer in the college version of a bubble as they travel from dorm or apartment to practice facility and back with no stops in between; take online classes whenever possible; and submit to twice weekly testing. Ohio State coach Ryan Day campaigned on that platform Monday while pushing to save the fall season.
University of Illinois data analyst Sheldon H. Jacobson said on Tuesday that college football not only could proceed safely — specifically projecting less than one death among the 13,000 players in Football Bowl Subdivision — but also that canceling the season or even playing fewer games can lead to a surge in infections as players spend less time in their quasi-bubbles.
The counterpoint is that it is naïve to think a college player won’t act like the typical student who practices social distancing the way Kanye West practices modesty.
Regardless, a 2020 fall season is not to be. At least we can say the presidents did not act out of greed. Ohio State, for example, stands to lose close to $50 million in ticket sales, with another $34 million lost in TV money.
That’s not to say financials were not a motivating factor in the decision. Just not in the way we normally think. Presidents aren’t only charged with protecting students but also with shielding their universities from legal catastrophe, which explains why lawyers are always present when these types of big decisions are made. Let one infected football player transfer COVID-19 to another student who then dies and watch the lawsuits appear.
Ultimately, I would have liked to see the presidents delay the season instead of cancel it — Ohio State president Kristina Johnson reportedly feels the same way — but COVID-19 is the real guilty party here.
Unlike college presidents, it kills seasons without fear of retribution.