It's time to admit college football this fall is a pipe dream
The tough news keeps coming, as the calendar keeps rolling, and as we sit some six weeks away from the college football season, it’s getting harder to believe there will be one.
The real question, though, is whether there should be one. At this point, I’d say no.
Not considering the available information. Not considering the COVID-19 spikes around the country, the politicization of masks and the consensus in the public health field that the pandemic may still get worse.
It’s time to cut the losses and hope for a medical miracle and a season in the spring.
If that feels like another dreary drip of news in this season of uncertainty, it is, and that’s been by design. No big-time college football program is quite ready to admit defeat.
It’s hard to blame them. The financial fallout from a lost season could be catastrophic.
But, really, it’s not up to the athletic directors at this point. It’s up to the public health experts and politicians guiding them. And as much as money is a concern, it isn’t the main concern, nor should it be, which is why it’s nearly impossible to imagine games being played in less than a couple of months.
Warde Manuel isn’t ready to concede that just yet. I don’t blame him. Hope is better than nothing.
But in a statement Wednesday, U-M's athletic director acknowledged the decision of whether — and when — to play is out of his hands.
"We have been working closely with a wide variety of leaders to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our student-athletes, coaches, fans and support staff associated with a game at Michigan Stadium," Manuel said in a statement. "We will follow the direction that all of these agencies and experts continue to provide during this challenging time."
That kind of direction has led — so far — to the Big Ten canceling all non-conference games. It led Ohio State to stop its voluntary workouts for six days last week before resuming earlier this week. (A decision, by the way, made by OSU’s athletic director, Gene Smith, who went on record last week saying he was “concerned we may not be able to play football.”) It has led to the Ivy League cancelling canceling all fall sports and to other countless (smaller) schools announcing the same.
So far, none of the Power 5 programs have been willing to go that far. Yet at this point the holdout feels like a pinkie trying to plug a leaky damn.
California just announced it was going back on partial lockdown. Other states are re-closing public spaces within certain regions, as Florida did in Miami. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has slowed parts of the state’s reopening.
Even in the reddest of states, governors are mandating masks, such as in Alabama and … Texas, a place as libertarian as any. If nothing else, these actions are an admission that normal life is still a long way away. And as much as college football would help a return to normal life, it simply isn’t worth it.
Besides, student-athletes playing games in mostly empty stadiums wouldn’t feel like normal life. It would feel like a money grab. It would look like one, too.
No matter how much money fuels college football, this is still an amateur sport, made possible by players who don’t have a union or any other kind of formal representation. Players whose youth and lack of a collective bargaining agreement make it harder for them to publicly express their uncertainty. As plenty of NBA and MLB players have.
At least the pros get paid. They’re also old enough to own the risk. College athletes still rely on adults in the room to make decisions for them.
U-M's decision to formally announce its ticket plans for the fall is another sign that the ultimate decision will leave us without football, even if the school and it’s fellow Big Ten members aren’t ready to say it.
At this point, all it will take is for one of the Power 5 conferences to nix the fall season. That should give cover to the others to follow.
Who will be first?
That’s hard to say, but considering the Big Ten was the first to announce it would only play conference football games — if it played — the league is a good bet to lead the way with the next step.Big Ten Commissioner, Kevin Warren, has been clear that the schools in the conference have long been preparing back-up plans for life without football this fall.
"This is a complicated time, complicated world that we’re living in with the COVID-19 pandemic," Warren said last week.
Indeed, it is. But not so complicated to figure out that playing college football this fall is not much more than a pipe dream.
U-M's announcement Wednesday only reinforced that.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.