According to Dan Patrick, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have reportedly canceled their college football seasons due to concerns over COVID-19, a move to be officially announced on Tuesday. For the remaining Power Five conferences, discussions are still being held, with the SEC possibly attempting to salvage the 2020 college football season by inviting schools into their conference. Only Iowa and Nebraska voted to go through with the upcoming season in the Big Ten.
After deciding upon a conference-only schedule on Wednesday, beginning Labor Day weekend, teams held practices in anticipation of the season, however without pads and no full-contact exercises. But, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 recognized their inability to effectively contain the virus with proper health and safety measures, the season is now, instead, canceled. No delay or future plans for the season have been announced yet but this will likely result in a domino effect within the other conferences and potentially other college sports as well, perhaps even influencing the NFL’s direction.
As the pandemic rages on in America, the college football season, among possibly many other college sports, falls to the same fate as the March Madness NCAA men and women’s basketball tournament five months ago. Without the NCAA considering student-athletes employees, no players’ union can be formed to ensure proper health and safety protocols, and therefore receive no say in the decision for the season nor would be immune from penalties or receive any stipend if deciding to opt-out of the season. Theoretically, universities could revoke scholarships if a player chooses to opt-out.
The push for the college football season to be played has been lead by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, among several other notable players. Under the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, Power Five conference players demanded many provisions offered to professional players, including mandated health and safety protocols, players maintain their eligibility and scholarships if they opt-out of the season, and the liberty to form a players union.
Lawrence has been particularly vocal of his support for the season, tweeting out “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”
“Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/ their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season also incentivizes players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting covid because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions.” Even President Donald Trump weighed in with his support, tweeting out “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay.”
With the booming success of the NBA and NHL’s structure, employing a bubble, with vigilant testing and cleaning while disallowing players or coaches from leaving, seems to be the only viable method of preserving sports seasons, as the rigorous travel of a typical sports season and the constant interaction with fellow players leads to a heightened risk of transmission. Already has the MLB been slammed by cases by attempting a traditional season but without fans, as the St.Louis Cardinals haven’t played since July 29th after nine players and seven staff members tested positive for the virus, some resulting in emergency room visits.
As college students as well as athletes, a bubble would be nearly impossible to maintain for college sports. Despite most universities adopting online classes, trusting the maturity of college students to not break the bubble would be lofty. For students at universities still holding physical classes, a bubble would be logistically impossible. Besides, the sheer number of players held at one or two locations would turn a bubble from tricky to downright unmanageable, especially for a football season.
Most college football teams have around sixty to seventy players on the active roster, with up to 125 players, including dozens of other prospects vying for a spot and dozens more redshirting. On top of coaches, trainers, and assistants, teams could have upward of hundreds of individuals in a program. Now multiply that by how many teams a conference has and a bubble would require space for thousands, not to mention enough state of the art facilities to sustain multiple college football teams. A place like this simply does not exist.
This is the reality the NFL will face in its upcoming season. Either they succumb to the MLB’s current situation, with entire teams in quarantine, or they build a probably multi-billion dollar location to hold all 32 teams in a bubble. The Big Ten and Pac-12, with more conferences soon following, has already weighed these two options and have simply resorted to unfortunately canceling the season.
The United States surpassed five million cases yesterday, including 163 thousand deaths and 1.7 million recoveries.