It was expected and predicted by many; minimized and ignored by some. It was absolute certainty that this season would face major logistical complications, and that certainty has spread everywhere now. It’s almost as if transporting a cohort of 150-200 people from one city to another on overnight trips for full-contact competition is problematic. Adding tens of thousands of fans to the equation might even be seen as playing with fire.Fortunately, we are still a long way from the worst case scenario, which would be a causal relationship between playing / coaching / attending football and serious illness or death. But in fact, getting through this fall’s mess is shocking enough to question the wisdom of our national bet to play.Until October, the upheavals affected all levels of the sport except the two highest: the National Football League and the Southeast Conference. Now these two leagues have been burnt. In fact, the flagship teams of those leagues were torched – the New England Patriots and the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Patriots have postponed their Week 5 game against Denver, and legendary coach Nick Saban tested positive this week. (Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne has also tested positive.)
Saban says he’s asymptomatic and is training via a Zoom call on Wednesday. He then made a post-workout media appeal to allay concerns and insist that he will still be at work as much as possible this week. But college football’s most accomplished coach, and arguably the greatest of all time, won’t be sidelined at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Alabama No.2 vs. No.3 showdown. from Georgia.
The game is still scheduled for Wednesday night, although there is another round of testing ahead for both teams. Two other SEC games have already been postponed this week: Vanderbilt in Missouri and LSU in Florida. The latter postponement was an opportunity for Gators coach Dan Mullen, who had called on his school days earlier to “pack The Swamp” with 90,000 fans for the LSU game – one of the most reckless statements anyone has ever made. made in college football this year.
Reality: Without bubbles, there are problems. The NBA did remarkably well with its Orlando bubble – miraculously, even. The NFL couldn’t blow up their season, and college football certainly couldn’t, and we see the messy results of this loophole.
College football, in conflict for months over what to do, has finally been forged. In some places, judges and politicians have joined forces to get university and conference administrators to gamble. Schools performed ethical backbends, pushing with practices and games as campuses closed.
Prior to this week, more than two dozen college games had been postponed or canceled. Now the SEC has increased the number and with more problems on the horizon.
This league cleverly delayed its season until September 26, predicting an increase in the number of cases when students returned to its 14 campuses in August. But it has gone badly without rapid daily testing, which will be in place for the Big Ten and Pac-12 when those leagues start in the coming weeks. (Even daily tests aren’t airtight, as the NFL and others have learned.)
After being insanely beaten by the We Demand Football crowd, the Big Ten leadership could still look like the smartest group in college game for their cautious approach. Wouldn’t that be rich? But it’s far too early to say so, given the ripple effects of the virus on sport.
One thing that seems increasingly clear: road trips are perilous. Saban cited playing Mississippi at Oxford as a possible explanation for his positive test. “As soon as you travel, you are exposed to a lot more things and a lot more people,” he says. Florida experienced its epidemic after playing Texas A&M.
The only potential virus vector that no one is willing to admit could be a problem is the games themselves. It seems like wishful thinking, denial, or sheer dishonesty.
Ole Miss came out of the Alabama game with unspecified COVID-19 issues, according to coach Lane Kiffin. “We’re just trying to manage it as best we can,” he says. Saban too. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
Earlier this season, Arkansas State and Memphis both had to postpone or cancel several games after playing each other. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
The powers that be know that epidemics directly related to the games will end the season. There might not be any evidence of it, but you wonder how hard they would seek it, or admit it if they found it.
While it doesn’t come down to this – if the season can play out, even in a chaotic way – it won’t look anything like what you would call ‘fair’. College football fans are the best in the world at screaming injustice, but they’re going to have to stifle that urge. Things are going to happen – things like putting a legendary coach on the sidelines for the biggest game of the season.
Then it will be up to the college football qualifying selection committee to sift through the uproar and declare who should play for a national championship. Would Alabama get a pass if they lose to Georgia on Saturday? Would a Georgia win lose some impact? It’s gonna be a joke on a job, but someone has to do it.
I guess someone has to do it, because football has been demanded and football has been played. But each week brings new setbacks, new complications, new changes to the season.
You play sports in the event of a pandemic, you try your luck.