Five months. That’s how long it’s been since the NBA became the first major sports league to postpone their season due to the ‘rona. In the days after, leagues started dropping like flies, and before we knew it the whole world was shut down and we were left to plow through our Netflix queues.
As other leagues began to formulate plans to safely return to play, the NCAA sat on their hands. When those leagues began to return, the NCAA still had nothing to say. No plan, no statements. It’s funny, in a way, that an organization that has soooo much to say when it comes to “protecting amateurism” is explicitly silent when it comes to actually protecting the student-athletes and the sports they play.
And so, it was left up to the individual conferences to make their own plans, and that’s just been such a well-organized affair. I’m sorry, did I say organized? I meant a gigantic clusterfuck.
The Big 10 and the Pac 12 have called off their seasons. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 say they’re moving forward. The mid-majors were left out to dry, as per usual, and it’s not even clear if playing a modified season would actually save those programs money. The fans? We’re all left in the dark, as well. There’s no plan for the College Football Playoffs. No plan for a coherent season of any kind.
That’s if the season even happens at all, and the odds ain’t looking great. In a rush to get that sweet tuition money, universities across the country have opened up with kids returning to campus. Coaches claim the players will be safer on campus than in their hometowns.
Yet, this past weekend our screens were flooded with images of college kids partying like their wasn’t a fucking worldwide pandemic going on. And, while the students certainly deserve their share of the blame, what university administration legit thought that a bunch of 18-22 year old kids would all have the self-discipline to observe proper social distancing measures? UNC-Chapel Hill cancelled all in-person classes, just one week after they started. (Sidenote: MAJOR props to their student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, for a beautiful, scathing editorial lambasting their administration.)
Meanwhile, the NCAA remains silent.
Naturally, people everywhere are angry. Players and parents in the Big 10 and Pac 12 have written letters and started petitions begging to play. There are calls for all conferences to suspend play until it’s safe. Everyone on both sides are angry for the same reason: they just want a college football season. Yes, even the people advocating to suspend play want college football, and that’s something a lot of people don’t understand. Those who favor a “wait until it’s safe” approach want football just as bad as anyone, they just want it done right. So, the anger directed towards those people is insanely misguided.
Most concerning is the fact I have yet to see the mass anger directed at the true culprit: the NCAA, aka the governing body of collegiate sports in this country.
This was their chance to step back, look at everything that is wrong with the current system and make changes to better the future of collegiate sports. To fix the disparity between major and mid-major programs. To fix the issues related to player compensation for the billions of dollars made off of their hard work and sacrifice. To fix the fact that the NCAA doesn’t even officially sanction a major college football championship — yes, technically speaking, D1-A (FBS) football is basically a confederacy of conferences, television deals and bowl games, all tied together through a network of contracts. The NCAA could’ve taken back the sport, and assured its future. Yet, they did nothing.
Those advocating for the season to happen this fall cite one reason above all: the almighty dollar. This does not come as a shock to anyone who follows college football. But what none of those people have said, perhaps because they just don’t realize it, is that the financial “need” for a college football season just exposes the gigantic cracks in the sport’s foundation.
Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox has said it will be “economically catastrophic” for the city if there’s no season. Well, Walt, guess what: THAT’S WHAT FUCKING HAPPENS WHEN YOU BUILD AN ENTIRE CITY’S ECONOMY AROUND EIGHT GODDAMNED DAYS A YEAR.
Now, Tuscaloosa’s one-sided relationship with the University of Alabama is something we here at The Take could do an entire podcast series on, as most (all?) of us here have seen it first hand. But, it’s not a problem specific to Tuscaloosa. The over-reliance on the money generated by college football is major problem that has gone unaddressed. Entire athletic departments are funded by one sport, and yet no one in a position of power sees this as a problem.
It’s appalling that instead of making a plan for a fall without football, the NCAA — and our elected officials — did nothing but sit on their asses and spew bullshit about “returning to normal.” Worse yet, none of them have lifted a finger in an effort to save football’s future.
In their rush to “return to normal,” the powers that be might have forsaken the future of the sport for… what, exactly? We may get a season, but it won’t feel like college football. There won’t be any fans or any tailgates. No College Gameday in front of a raucous crowd of students. No marching bands, no homecoming pep rallies.
Then there’s the worst-case scenario: someone dies after contracting coronavirus while participating in football-related activities. Doesn’t matter who, either. A player, a coach, a trainer, a student-manager. It does not matter, because if even one person dies, the blood is on the NCAA’s hands. They will have sat idly by and done nothing, allowing greedy university presidents and shithead politicians to dictate what happens to a sport the NCAA is supposed to govern over. Then comes the reckoning, and it won’t be pretty.