It’s hard to know what to write at a time like this.
The college football season remains up in the air as I write this sentence with the Big 10 and Pacific 12 conferences reportedly leaning toward shutting the game down this fall for all programs.
The Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences are taking more of a wait-and-see approach, it seems at the moment, but the prospect of playing football this fall doesn’t look promising.
At issue is safety for players, coaches and staff, but also liability for the leagues and programs if an athlete or a staffer did contract the virus while participating in football and either die or sustain lasting health issues, like some are reportedly having.
Decision-makers at the top of the college food chain are scared of litigation that could not only cripple their football programs, but also their universities financially and in terms of public relations.
Those college presidents and chancellors in the leagues like the Big 10 and Pac 12 certainly understand that putting a halt to college football will cost their football programs a debilitating amount of money if they do not play at all this fall, but they fear the price of fending off lawsuits as being even more costly.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens?
After reports came out Monday that the Big 10 presidents had voted 12-2 to suspend the season, prominent Big 10 coaches such as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, and Penn State’s James Franklin came out in support of their players’ desires to play this season.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost, whose university along with Iowa were the two Big 10 programs whose presidents reportedly voted to play this fall, went as far to say that Nebraska would play football this fall whether the rest of the Big 10 does or not.
Will the thoughts and desires of players and coaches supporting the “We want to play” movement make a difference when the presidents and chancellors from the power conferences meet again today?
When word that the Big 10 was ready to shut down the season began to leak Saturday and Sunday, it was popular thought that if the Big 10 made such a drastic move that the other Power 5 conferences would follow suit. They would either bow to either “common sense” or “peer pressure,” depending on how you look at the issue. When the Mid-American Conference canceled its season Sunday, reports were that dominoes would begin to fall on Monday.
For those who, like me, want to see every possible avenue exhausted before the college season is called off, I’m glad the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 have shown some backbone. I hope the Big 10 and Pac 12 presidents will reconsider making a final decision at this point.
The SEC pushed its season back three weeks to allow students to return to its campuses and then judge what type of effect that would have on infection rates. The league plans to begin play on Sept. 26, but if the virus gets out of hand on multiple campuses when students return to campus, it’s plausible the SEC could decide to postpone or cancel the season at that point.
The big hypothetical question is would the SEC or any other conference elect to go it alone and play if all the other conferences opt to shut the season down?
As important as college football is in the Southeastern Conference footprint, I believe that would be a very hard stance to take. I think the media pressure would be too much. It’s also uncertain if the TV contracts with ESPN would be viable if only one conference were playing?
However, if the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 stand together, I could see a season being played without the Big 10 or Pac 12. My hope is that patience will prevail with all the conferences.
Again, as of this writing, there really are no clear answers.
As for the Razorbacks, Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek, who has a son who plays for the Hogs and one who is serving as a graduate assistant coach, tweeted that he supports the players in wanting to play, and Razorback head coach Sam Pittman tweeted the same.
Alabama coach Nick Saban made the excellent point in an ESPN interview that football players at Power 5 schools are actually safer on campus where they receive impeccable medical care and work and practice under constantly sanitized conditions that they would be living at home.
Furthermore, the promise of a football season gives the players a goal and a reason to live a safer lifestyle and to observe social distancing and other safety practices because none of them want to contract the virus and lose practice and playing time.
So, again, we are in a holding pattern, and will just have to see what happens.
SEC Plays Bully to Struggling Programs
A bully is going to do what a bully does, even among its own brethren.
That message was delivered loud and clear last Friday when the SEC announced the two additional matchups for each of its teams as the conference moves to a 10-game, all-SEC schedule.
By now you, no doubt, know the Western Division Arkansas Razorbacks are going to play preseason No. 4 Georgia and No. 8 Florida as their additional Eastern Division opponents. The Eastern Division Missouri Tigers were saddled with playing the West’s No. 3 Alabama and No. 5 LSU.
Mark Womack, SEC executive Associate commissioner, led the effort to add the additional games to the schedule, and as the Arkansas athletics director said he would do, Womack crafted a schedule that would be in the best interest for the SEC.
Evidently, what the SEC thought was in their best interest was to protect the league’s top-rated teams by giving them the easiest matchups to aid their chances of playing in the SEC Championship Game and possibly the College Football Playoffs, if a season is played this year.
I guess the thinking was that Arkansas and Missouri weren’t going to have good seasons anyway under the circumstances, so matching them up with the opposite division’s best teams would have the least ill effects for the prestige of the league.
As I said, a bully is going to do what a bully does, and the SEC has long been known as the bully of college football.
It’s clear the SEC wasn’t looking to balance the schedules, create the best matchups or to be fair.
Arkansas already had what many had deemed as the most difficult schedule in the nation, with Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Tennessee on the schedule. The addition of Florida on the road and Georgia at home means the Hogs are they only team in the SEC to play every preseason ranked SEC team this season.
This situation reminds me of the old quote by Joe Kines, who was Arkansas’ defensive coordinator when it was announced Arkansas was going to join the SEC and later interim head coach during its first year in the league.
After a preseason practice in 1991, Kines and several media members were waiting on another TV reporter to arrive after practice had ended early when the topic of the SEC was brought up. Kines said of the league “they’ll slit your throat, and drink the blood.”
I don’t think there is a much better way to describe what happened to Arkansas and Missouri in this scheduling process. They were brought as lambs to the slaughter for the SEC elite.
Arkansas’ schedule is brutal and considering Sam Pittman is in his first year as head coach and the Hogs weren’t able to have spring drills makes it all the more challenging.
Tough times supposedly make tough people stand even taller. Let’s hope Pittman and his staff develop some toughness with this Razorback team, and that they will be able to use the hard times of this season to build something stronger for the future.