With its proclaimed priority being the health, safety and welfare of its athletes, the Pac-12 on Tuesday opted out of college football in 2020 … and unleashed the possibility of playing two seasons in a single calendar year.
Leaving us to wonder if CTE is a lesser evil than COVID when it comes to picking running mates.
Such are the choices in our corona summer.
Not that it will come to that, necessarily.
In declaring all competitions off the board until at least Jan. 1, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors answered the only question they really could at the moment – will they play this fall? – and bought themselves another four months or so to come to grips with other details and the fallout dusting their suddenly crumbling enterprise.
Is a spring season – and another in the fall of 2021 – truly feasible? What happens to the athletes thrust back into limbo? With the spigot of TV money stoppered, when do the layoffs – of people, and possibly entire programs – begin?
The Pac-12 had company for these uncomfortable questions.
Hours earlier Tuesday, the Big Ten came to the same decision – though not with the unanimity among the membership that University of Oregon president Michael Schill, chair of the Pac-12’s CEO group, could trumpet.
“No big drama, no big fights, no disagreements,” he insisted.
Over in Big Ten country, isolated tantrums had erupted even before the announcement and continued after, notably at Nebraska, where athletic director Bill Moos attached his name to a dissenting opinion while his coach threatened to look for games beyond the Big Ten ban. Moos greatly enjoyed the concept of conference consensus when he was stumping for things like revenue sharing in his days at Washington State, but apparently not so much now.
Meanwhile, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 continued to plot a course for playing football – and surely the SEC will play, even if quarterbacks have to be hooked up to ventilators between snaps.
This great divide is, of course, a reflection of the current national zeitgeist.
If we cannot agree to suck it up and do something as productive – or even simply hopeful and harmless – as wearing a mask, what chance does college football have of coming to a universal decision?
So the Pac-12’s decision to not play now will not sit well with those on the freedom hustle, who will surely paint this as Revenge of the Eggheads Wanting to Destroy Football – and, thus, America.
Nor will it sit well with the players. Though a remarkable number had rallied to demand better care and protocols from their schools in the face of the pandemic, they still want to play. But they’re also young men very much caught up in the opportunity of now and not what their hearts and lungs might look like in 10 years or 20.
“We are science-based,” Schill said. “We are academics. We’re going to be looking at facts, not just opinions. At the same time, we fully understand this has tremendous human impacts for students whose dream it was to play this year. We have families, coaches, all sorts of people hoping we’d be able to do this, and one of the reasons we delayed the decision until now is to really give it the best shot.”
What the science told them, in a report from the conference’s medical advisory committee, was that there wasn’t enough science, and “too much uncertainty,” Schill said.
The spread of the virus in the bulk of Pac-12 communities remains uncontrolled, or worse.
Restrictions and mandates from health officials at the local level remain so disparate that a level playing field is impossible – the LA teams can’t even play catch, for instance. And the threat of myocarditis among those who contract the virus, even among those not symptomatic, is just now coming to light in studies.
So, the argument will be made, why not let the risk takers sign waivers and play on?
“We’re not driven by lawyers saying we’ll relieve you of liability,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson proclaimed. “That’s not what floats the boat in this conference.”
Or so he says. Hard to believe that the subject didn’t come up in some circles, what with football programs generating $50 million or more at each Pac-12 school.
That’s part of the subtext here. Yes, the Pac-12 is doing what it thinks best to take care of its athletes, but it also recognizes what sending its unpaid workforce out amid COVID uncertainty to recoup those TV dollars and save some jobs would do to the notion of amateur athletics to which it still clings.
For the players, the coaches, the support staffs – and, yes, even fan bases – Tuesday was another heavy dose of COVID fatigue and anxiety. Yet more groups are being asked for a sacrifice that has to be made for a lack of a reasoned, unified response to the pandemic that should have come long ago.
Really, there are no choices left in our corona summer.
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