The college football saga continues...and worsens
The college football saga continues. As of this writing, two of the Power Five conferences have canceled their 2020 season. These are the Big Ten and the Pac-12. The other three conferences — the Big 12, the Southeastern, and Atlantic Coast — are tentatively planning to play. But even these are restricting their schedule to inter-conference games. Tough luck, independents — and smaller conferences like the Mid-American, Mountain West, and Ivy League are also opting out for 2020.
This is a mess. How will the college playoffs be handled with some of the country's most formidable teams not eligible? What is telling is that all of the conferences have hired the best medical advisers available to give them guidance. The result has been a variety of conclusions. One says this, the other says that. The NCAA's top medical adviser, Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases expert, has weighed in. He issued an unequivocal warning, saying playing the 2020 season could be a "titanic miscalculation." But the NCAA does not control the conferences, so his advice becomes just one piece of many.
One of the rationales offered for playing is that so far, there hasn't been an outbreak of the virus at preseason training this summer. The thinking is that this could continue throughout the season. But can it? Those preseason camps were conducted in a highly restrictive environment. That bubble can't be expected to hold throughout a long season. Playing involves travel, and travel affords countless opportunities for infections. More problems come when the general student populations come streaming back to their respective schools in September. And can the players themselves maintain discipline to avoid the sources of infection until November? It would take just a few players going rogue to jeopardize the entire team.
The real reason the "better safe than sorry" route is not being taken by all the conferences is money. The numbers involving college sports are startling. Taken collectively, the Pac-12 and Big Ten athletic departments generate about $1.3 and $1.9 billion per year. The SEC brought in $721 billion last year. The bulk of these revenues, and in some cases the overwhelming majority, comes from football. Without question, it is football that floats the ship.
Take what is happening at Stanford as an example. The university anticipates at least a $25-million deficit from athletics and so is eliminating 11 of its varsity programs. These are men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, co-ed and women's sailing, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball, and wrestling. You have to ask yourself, how much can some of these minor sports cost? Synchronized swimming? Squash? Fencing?
What is doubly ironic here is that those participating in these cut programs are probably legitimate students unlike many on the football team. You also have to wonder: why not support those sports from Stanford's general revenue fund, or, heaven forbid, for the school to dip into it $27.7-billion endowment fund to cover their cost? Silly me. I still believe that colleges are for learning and for the students. Here's a more basic question. Is it right that all sports at major colleges be dependent on their in-house quasi-pro teams? Maybe this Wuhan virus is an opportunity for reform, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.
I could be wrong, but I can't see college football being played this year. And if the 2020 season does start at some conferences, there's a good chance something is likely to happen to cancel it before it ends. There are just too many risks that can't be controlled.
Image credit: Max Pixel public domain