Boy oh boy, where on earth do I start here?
College football finds itself in a perilous position on the eve of the 2020 season.
The impact of the global coronavirus pandemic has already caused havoc with conference scheduling, with two of the Power-5 conferences – the PAC-12 and the Big Ten – deciding to go with conference-only schedules this season.
The remaining two conferences – the ACC and the SEC – followed suit this week, with the ACC adopting independent FBS affiliate Notre Dame as a one-off conference member.
Of course, alongside all of these conference scheduling proposals resides a big fat asterisk that signifies the pending approval of state health officials.
An organisation that has long had its constitutional power questioned and at times ridiculed now finds itself at the mercy of individual state health guidelines within its many conferences.
One of the keys to a successful 2020 college football season might indeed be the virus testing protocols.
The NCAA COVID-19 testing regime calls for, among other things, all players to be tested 72 hours before games, yet the Power-5 conferences are expected to announce their own guidelines.
It’s a decision that has raised eyebrows from long-time college football analyst Paul Finebaum, particularly in the wake of the outbreak at the University of Michigan State that forced the entire football program into a 14-day quarantine.
“I don’t care what athletic directors and commissioners and coaches are saying, there are massive reports on these campuses that we are not being told about but that I have heard and most people inside this bubble have heard. I mean, huge numbers – and they’re being disregarded”, Finebaum said on ESPN’s Get Up this week.
“They’re not following protocols at every school, they’re being fed a line of garbage by the administrators, and I think you’re going to start hearing from players, little by little, about their tremendous concern about this college football season.”
Earlier this month, Finebaum himself labelled the NCAA’s attempt to stage a football season this year as a money grab, claiming that if money was not an issue, some of the difficult decision might already have been made.
This discussion has further exacerbated the conversation on college football’s exploitation of its players, with universities asking its football players to report to campus for training camp activities.
At the same time, school campuses have been deemed unsafe for non-student athletes (i.e. students not associated with the team that generates the school’s biggest annual cash flow).
With there being no concrete guidelines around the testing and protection of students just weeks out from the scheduled commencement of the 2020 season, there is understandably great trepidation among some of college football’s biggest names.
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, widely thought of as a potential first-round pick in next April’s draft, become the first high profile player to opt out of the upcoming season, stating that he was opting out due to uncertain health conditions and regulations.
An anonymous college football prospect who spoke to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough this week also expressed their concerns, believing there isn’t any real protocols in place for the season to forge ahead safely.
When asked about the possibility of the season being moved to the spring (late March until June in North America), the player was adamant.
“I would leave (and declare for the NFL draft),” the player told ESPN.
“I don’t know if the risk is as big as the reward. I think a lot of guys would sit out rather than play.”
With the recent raft of pro players electing to sit out the upcoming season, Finebaum believes there could be many college football players about to do the same.
“And as you (the crew on Get Up) have reported already today, major players are starting to say, ‘We’re not going through with this.’ And I fully expect, little by little, college football players to start saying the same thing because they are not being treated fairly,” Finebaum told ESPN’s Get Up.
And so, the NCAA and board of governors that chair all football conferences have a decision to make.
An institution that has built a reputation over its 150 years of existence for its cold-blooded corporate decision-making simply cannot continue along that line of business rhetoric in the midst of the greatest threat to human life in several lifetimes.
As fans, we’re about to find out where NCAA college football’s priorities lie, and the decisions made will likely shape college football for the next several decades, if not its existence entirely.
And we’re all going to find out together.