Concern over the 2020 college football season had increased, even at the highest levels of the sport. But until last week, she spoke in disturbing words, not concrete actions.
On two mornings four days apart, questions were answered as to which FBS team and which FBS league would be the first to retire from fall football. Wednesday started with Connecticut canceling their season, a notable decision but easily rationalized, given the program’s independent status and plummeting play on the field.
Then, shortly after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, it became known that the presidents of the Mid-American Conference had voted to postpone the fall sports season, including football. A touching commissioner, Jon Steinbrecher, quickly confirmed what he called “a miserable decision”, and echoed many, saying: “If you had told me in March we would be here today , I never would have believed it.
There will be no #MACtion this fall, and sources around college football expect other leagues to follow. The postponement or cancellation of the season, they say, is inevitable. Some administrators and coaches are pointing out that it will eventually take a Power 5 conference to move things in that direction, but that day could come soon, especially with Pac-12 presidents and chancellors meeting on Tuesday.
“No one wanted to be the first to do it,” a Power 5 coach told ESPN, “and now no one is going to want to be the last. ”
A Power 5 admin added, “It feels like nobody wants it, but it gets to the point where someone is going to have to do it. ”
Will there be a wave of championship cancellations this week? Many around the sport watch two conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, which often take place at the same time. Last month, they became the first FBS leagues to announce conference calendar models only for the 2020 season. The two groups of presidents are closely linked as many schools are members of the Association of American Universities and have missions. academics, and league commissioners Kevin Warren (Big Ten) and Larry Scott (Pac-12) have followed every announcement about the season with the qualifier so it never starts.
“Pac-12 and Big Ten, they’re together,” a Group of 5 sporting director said ahead of the MAC’s announcement.
The Pac-12 faces regional challenges in starting football practices due to virus rates in Arizona and southern California, as well as state restrictions. The league is also dealing with #WeAreUnited, a large and organized unity group of players demanding improvements in health and safety, racial justice initiatives, compensation and other areas. ESPN first reported on Saturday that the Pac-12 players came away disappointed with their first meeting with Scott and other league officials. A Pac-12 administrator said the league presidents were going “crazy,” and several league sources said they wouldn’t be surprised if the presidents vote on Tuesday to cancel fall sports.
The Big Ten presidents met on Saturday and, although they did not vote to postpone the fall sports season, the league announced that football practices would remain in the initial ‘acclimatization phase’ until. at further notice due to information from the league’s COVID-19 medical advisory groups. . Warren has spoken extensively in recent days with the league’s campus medical advisors and sports medicine groups.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith said his staff were made aware of the league’s decision to continue with helmets-only and contactless about an hour and a half before his team’s third practice on Saturday.
“We play football right now [and] we want to play, ”Smith said. I want to play. [The players] want to play. If they tell us we can’t play, what’s the next time we can play? If that is the spring, so be it. Ultimately we’re going to have football, so we’re going to embrace that moment whenever it comes up. ”
“No one wanted to be the first to do it, and now no one will want to be the last. ”
Power 5 head coach, on fall football canceling conferences
The potential long-term effects of COVID-19, even for athletes who have recovered, are on the radar of college football power brokers and factored into the MAC’s decision to postpone, the athletic director of the northern Illinois, Sean Frazier, to ESPN. Last week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney revealed that defensive lineman Xavier Thomas had been medically arrested since March due to illnesses, including COVID-19. LSU defensive end Travez Moore and Arizona wide receiver Jaden Mitchell wrote on Twitter that they suffered significant weight loss after contracting COVID-19.
“My training staff and everyone at the University of Arizona did a great job of making us feel safe and taken care of,” Mitchell wrote. “Even though they did all they could, being in a room or a house for 28 days had a big impact on my body and my mental health. The point is, if this virus takes hold of you and you experience symptoms, it will have a big impact on you. ”
Sources said sports team doctors were noticing cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection, in college athletes who had COVID-19. College administrators last week saw the Facebook post from Debbie Rucker, mother of Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, who wrote that her son was still suffering from potential heart problems.
“What we didn’t know really haunted us, and that’s why we came to our final decision,” Frazier said. “This is part of the data used by our presidents. This mother gave us one game per game. This stuff is extremely scary. ”
Steinbrecher, Frazier and other MAC members pointed out that health and safety, not financial concerns, motivated the league’s decision to postpone fall sports. But some believe the lack of resources between leagues like the MAC and the Power 5 will give the big leagues a chance to play, especially if reliable quick tests improve. “The Power 5 can bear the high costs of testing,” said a Power 5 administrator.
But can they afford the optics, especially if a Power 5 league decides not to play this fall?
“As much as the Big 12, the SEC or anyone else wants to play and is preparing to play, presidents and chancellors won’t want to be alone on an island,” a Power 5 athletic director said. they will be the ones to stop him, even if the league commissioners are determined to hold on. … Everyone’s going to be watching what the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are up to over the next few days. It’s certain. ”
As for the MAC, some have minimized the importance of its postponement.
“The MAC decision doesn’t affect us at all,” said an ACC sporting director. “They have to do what they think is best, and we will do the same. ”
On Saturday, ACC schools like Clemson and Florida State continued their preseason camps; the Seminoles must use towels for the first time on Sunday. Austin Peay, who still plans to play with the rest of the FCS Ohio Valley Conference, first played on Saturday.
“These guys love football,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “They want to play football. We ultimately do not control these decisions. ”
With the coming season seemingly on the line, several players, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and others, have made it clear on Twitter their desire to play this coming season.
From day one of their return to campus, Penn State Football staff and medical experts have put our health and safety first, before anything else. The guidelines in place protect us when we play the game we love. We are ready to play and we want to play.
– Pat Freiermuth (@ pat_fry5) 9 August 2020
I don’t know about all of you, but we want to play.
– Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) 8 août 2020
Decisions made over the next few days could determine whether they get their wish. Several Sun Belt sources told ESPN that the league remains committed to playing this fall and cares more about what is happening at the SEC compared to other conferences.
An SEC athletic director told ESPN that the feeling within the SEC is to stay the course and see where things are at the end of September when the league is expected to start playing.
“If our position last week was, ‘Let’s see what happens when all the students come back to campus, there is no new data that is causing another decision right now … other than fear,’ said the sports director.
Others have said the MAC’s decision simply accelerates the process of eliminating fall football.
“They’re pulling the plug as soon as possible,” said a Power 5 athletic director. “Get it over with and let’s see how to survive. ”
The MAC hope to play soccer in the spring, as do several FCS leagues that canceled the fall seasons last week. The spring option is gaining more ground throughout the sport, but many remain skeptical, noting that virus conditions might not change and players would face additional physical demands trying to play two seasons in a year civil.
“You’re going to have to look at how many games you play in the two seasons and probably shorten the two seasons, so what you do has an impact on both 2020 and 2021,” a Power 5 coach said. It might be the only option, but it’s not a good option, especially for gamers. ”
ESPN reporters Chris Low, David Hale, and Sam Khan Jr. contributed to this story.