Revenue vs. Caution: At Odds Over College Football
August 17, 2020

It's like this in the real world. Business owners are clamoring to either re-open or get back to normal operations so they can make a living, while health officials are either shutting them down or curtailing their activity in an effort to keep people safe from coronavirus. College football is wrestling with that same decision. Some conferences are shutting down, others are proceeding. Players want to play, but officials are worried about safety (and liability), and a lot of money is on the line.

The Ivy League was the first to cancel their fall season, and the Mid-American Conference followed shortly thereafter, but last week, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 were the first of the major conferences to say there would be no fall football. Other conferences like the Mountain West have followed, but the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big-12, are, at least for now, proceeding as scheduled. The SEC, where all the big money is, plans to play until someone tells them they can't.

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has said that his players are safer at school than they would be at home. Nebraska, a Big-10 school, had thoughts about having a football season despite their conference bowing out, but now seems to be backing away from that position. At Ohio State University, another Big-10 school, quarterback Josh Fields has started a petition demanding the reinstatement of the football season, and has reportedly gathered over 120-thousand signatures in just a few hours, including players and parents.

It's interesting that the players are saying they should be able to decide for themselves, which is exactly what each football conference is doing. There is no 'Commissioner of College Football', and while some people are calling for one, there really doesn't need to be. The criticism about playing or not playing is fair, but maybe the bigger question is why the decision was made now, and especially in the Big Ten's case, just a week or so after a conference-only schedule was announced as a plan to go forward.

Those conferences which have announced a postponed season are planning to try to play football in the spring. For fans, this could mean watching Auburn-Alabama in November, some sort of fall national championship game around New Year's Day, and the UCLA-USC game in April. While this sounds a little ridiculous, it could be reality, although that's not really the major issue here.

Just today, the University of North Carolina, an ACC school, shut down their campus just a week after school started because of a major outbreak in Covid-19 cases. That school thought that classroom learning would be okay, and are now faced with having to have classes taught remotely. Hours later (right now as I am writing), the SEC is unveiling their season schedule on their cable network. It's a mess Dennis Dodd of has called “a nuclear-grade conflict of silliness.”

For the most part, high school football is not going to be played in the fall. The NFL, meanwhile, is proceeding as if nothing happened, with the Houston Texans finally admitting last week that there will be no fans at their home opener next month. NFL players are paid. High school football players are not. College football players are in the middle. They are technically amateurs, but for most of them, the only reason they are going to college in the first place, is to play football. A select few of them then get to go on and play in the NFL.

The SEC plays their games in hundred-thousand seat coliseums and every game not only on television, but national television. We're talking billions of dollars in revenue. The slice of the pie is not that large for the Big 12 and ACC, but it's big enough that they are not (yet) willing to give up that share. As for the Pac 12 and Big 10? You can admire them for potentially walking away from that pie in order to protect its athletes and others, or just think about it from a liability standpoint. Suppose the Big 10 reverses its decision, lets Fields and the other players who signed that petition play football this year, and some of them get sick, or die, or a family member dies. Then what?

The choice is a difficult one (and fortunately not mine to make) with two terrible options. You can probably hear the voices of public health officials in your head saying it's too dangerous to play football and be in school, especially in areas where Covid cases are already spiking, but you see what happens when big-time players may have their time to shine cut short, and those checks from the networks stop rolling in. You know that salon owner and restaurateur can relate.

We are (almost) the champions: Other than the Super Bowl in early February (which was really the culmination of the 2019 season), there has not been a champion crowned in a professional team sport in 2020. The NBA and NHL playoffs are now underway, with the finals coming up in a few weeks. The NBA tipped off their post-season this morning, with all games under their so-called bubble in Orlando. The National Hockey League is in the middle of their first round, with Western Conference games being played in Edmonton, and eastern games in Toronto.

The Duffey-Duffy doubleheader: On Saturday, Minnesota and Kansas City split a doubleheader with the Twins taking the first game 4-2, and the Royals winning the nightcap by the same score. Tyler Duffey was the winning pitcher in game one. Danny Duffy (no relation, different spelling) got the W in game two.

Great rule!: In an (idiotic) effort to speed things up, baseball is inserting a man at second base to begin extra-innings during the shortened regular season. This has led to such things as ESPN's Jon Sciambi “realizing his dream” of calling a lead-off two-run homer, and the Dodgers on Saturday pushing over the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth with a lead-off sacrifice fly (Chris Taylor, who started the inning at second, stole third). Friday night, after the Oakland A's scored five runs in the ninth inning to tie the Giants, they were retired in order in the tenth inning, but still scored a run. Matt Chapman began the inning as the runner at second, Matt Olson grounded out, advancing Chapman to third. Mark Canha flied out to right, allowing Chapman to score, and Robbie Grossman grounded out to end the inning. The A's won 8-7.

Different Drum: In that same A's-Giants game Friday night, I tuned in to the A's broadcast after the conclusion of the Dodgers-Angels on FS1, and noticed that while the A's were batting in the tenth inning, you could hear a drumbeat rooting on the A's, as you would if you were at the Coliseum for an A's home game. Realizing after a moment that the game was in San Francisco and not Oakland, I turned over to the Giants channel. No drumbeat. That means not only is there fake crowd noise from home ball parks, but, at least in this case, road parks as well. Weird.

View All Commentaries