Cancel the 2020 college football season. We get it. You tried to stir up new schedules like they were margarita mix in a blender, and you thought they would be palatable going forward. You got spooked by medical reports about potential heart problem for victims of COVID and treated it like it was new intel. All of this was in the name of safety for the players.
We want to believe that. We really do. But details, facts, and yes, context drive us elsewhere.
ITEM: Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren announces Tuesday that for the health of everyone involved, shutting down is the only way. He says the goal will be to play in the Spring.
REACTION: Warren, who could not have taken his new job at a worse time, cited the growing number of cases in the Big 10 states and around the world. Wait. What? Did he really say, “Around the world…” Yes, he did. We were unaware that Iowa was going to travel to Stuttgart for a roadie in the revised schedule. And at a deeper level, please don’t say this was about the players’ safety, but then propose they play two seasons in one calendar year. It sounds as absurd as you would imagine. Knowing what we know about CTE but thinking two seasons in one calendar year is a good idea insults our intelligence.
ITEM: Last week, UConn and the entire MAC conference announced they were forgoing the season. It was all about player safety.
REACTION: UConn left the AAC conference at the end of the last academic year in order to be an independent for this year. They would be joining the Big East next year. When they broke their conference affiliation deal early, it left them owing the AAC upwards of $15 million dollars. And now, as an independent, they had no games to play when the majors all went to conference games only in their revised schedules. The football program is essentially funded by the Women’s Basketball team and was digging a deeper and deeper financial hole.
As for the MAC, they need the money games with the Big 10 and other schools. One or two of those per school, per year and the athletic department is in the black. Minus those games, there is no way your conference schools could afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to maintain the mandated testing protocols. And then there is the issue that the NCAA dumped all liability insurance issues on the individual schools. The MAC, The Mountain West, and others of that size have no ability to finance that kind of protection, especially since they lost their big revenue games. Heck, the big conferences can barely afford it and they don’t admit it either.
ITEM: PAC 12 cancels Fall athletics but says they hope to play in the Spring.
REACTION: Commissioner Larry Scott did not issue a prepared, taped statement, like Warren. He brought the cavalry. He had Dr. Doug Aukerman from Oregon State, Ray Anderson, the athletic director at Arizona State, And Michael Schill, the president at University of Oregon. Schill heads what Scott likes to call his CEO team…which is all of the conference chancellors and presidents.
Like Warren from the Big 10, Scott said the hope was to play football in the Spring. Later in the presser, he admitted that may be farfetched. “You have identified one of the reasons why considering the Spring was not one of the things you wanted to default to right away.” In other words, it was a bad idea earlier with too many questions. But now it is an option with the exact same questions.
Early in the event, Scott said he was concerned about the cardiac impact of the virus that so many doctors are talking about now. People who have had the virus will tell you it is not new information. It has been discussed for months. But people who suddenly need the information are now paying attention. When asked what information they expected to see that could allow for a Spring season, Dr. Auckerman hoped for maybe some short-term statistical analysis. Because indeed anyone who passed high school science knows that long term impact studies require you know….a long term…like years. Is the conference willing to shut down for years to wait for that?
ITEM: PAC 12 Insists things will be business as usual. Pay no attention to the financial cratering.
REACTION: In the consummate Pac 12 moment, Schill, the Oregon president, said everyone needed to remember what the conference stands for. “We are science-based. And we are academics. We are going to be looking at facts, and not just opinions.” He was not wearing an academic tweed sport coat when he said it. In fact, he was wearing an Oregon pull over jacket with the Nike logo on it….made by the company that has been financing much of his athletic department for about 30 years. The irony was rich.
When the panel was asked about the possibility of players transferring to schools and conferences that will be playing, Schill did not foresee a problem. “This provides them (the athletes), with an opportunity to focus even more on the classwork during this period and get ahead.” We are pretty sure he was serious. We didn’t have the heart to tell him about the players that are about to withdraw from school and head to training for the February NFL Combine.
Also, as of this moment, the AAC, ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and Big XII are playing. There are going to be Pac 12 players who opt to go play somewhere else because they can. The NCAA has no choice but to grant them immediate eligibility because their previous schools bailed out on the season. President Schill seems unfamiliar with the transfer portal.
The Pac 12 was already far behind the other P5 conferences in terms of football prominence. It just fell much further down the ladder, and with a new financial quagmire.
ITEM: Warren, and each of Scott’s assembled group, said part of the reason for the cancellation was the unknown.
REACTION: For people who claim to have little insight, they acted quickly. One of the people at least being upfront about what he doesn’t know right now was UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. He held a press avail later that same day with Bruins head football coach Chip Kelly, who himself had the COVID-19 virus back in March. Jarmond said the financial slap UCLA, and other Pac 12 schools get is going to be significant. But he said he had yet to put the details together, because he has been focused on what to do about the athletes. Clearly though, tough decisions are ahead, and down the road, some non-revenue sport athletes at many schools are likely to get bad news. They will be protected for this year. But the bills are going to come due later and the usual money will not be there in the not-too-distant-future.
And remember all those conference calls with the P5 commissioners? Scott made it clear that in the last week, each was operating in their “own silo,” to make their own decisions as independent conferences. The P5 consortium is in trouble.
We may have also seen the end of the Pac 12 Network. It was already in a financial morass. Now it will be getting pennies on the dollar for advertising revenue as it spends the next nine months playing the greatest Arizona State football games of all time on an endless loop due to lack of content. It’s a shame. Yogi Roth and so many others there are consummate professionals.
ITEM: THIS IS ALL IN THE NAME OF PLAYER SAFETY.
REACTION: Balderdash. We’ve already established that for some, it was a financial decision. You know who is making the player safety issue real? The Ohio State University. Within hours of the Big 10 cancellation announcement, Ohio State announced the players would still have access to the workout facilities, and would still get the rapid result testing and all other protocol elements they would have gotten if there were a season. The alternative is they go back into the regular student population with access to the student health center to tend to any symptoms. The school is going to lose millions by not playing but says it will tend to its athletes.
When told what Ohio State did, Jarmond and Kelly said the UCLA facilities would remain open to all athletes. As far as the testing and protocols, Jarmond said he was going to look into it. He confirmed that UCLA athletes were going to stay in their own on-campus community as they had during June workouts. He said they were safer there. To this point, no other school from a cancelled conference has publicly confirmed similar arrangements.
You know what this is for too many schools? The athletes are the equivalent of essential workers as long as there is a season and revenue is coming in. They are considerably less when they are not bringing in the money. And we wonder why protest movements started.
ITEM: Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) issues public letter saying the timing of the shutdowns is dubious. They are happening as players are starting to organize and have their voices herd.
REACTION: That is a pretty significant accusation and very hard to prove. But the context of the events, and the false reasons given by too many for the shutdowns leaves all potential issues as open ended.
Go ahead and shut down if you need to. But at least be honest about it.