Someone’s going to get hurt.
Covid-19 has killed 135,000 Americans and the pandemic isn’t even close to contained. A lot of people have a lot of incentive to keep this football season as normal as possible, and the consequences could be tragic.
Let’s look at some numbers around the college football world:
LSU: 5 or 6 cases (school says initial reports of 30 cases were incorrect)
Clemson: 37 cases
North Carolina: 37 cases, including an unspecified number of coaches and staff
Kansas State: 14 cases
Ohio State: at least 7 sports, including football, affected (OSU declined to release a total number)
Texas: 13 cases
As of Thursday night, we’re at 442 confirmed cases among college athletes. Athletes are pretty much the only people on campuses right now, and schools are still trying to decide between in-person classes or going fully online.
‘I guarantee someone is going to die’
A University of Illinois computer science professor actually crunched the numbers for CBS Sports. Sheldon Jacobson, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois, predicted 3-7 deaths among FBS football players if the season were to continue as planned.
"I guarantee someone is going to die," Jacobson said. "The virus does not discriminate."
He incorporates some key assumptions to make these predictions:
A CDC death statistic of 1 in 1,000 cases for patients 18-22
An infection rate of 30% to 50%
Football players likely have access to superior healthcare, which would reduce their death rate relative to the general population and their age group
All of this is fluid and there are a lot of variables. As more data pours in and more people get tested and re-tested, the infection rate could change. If more hospitals become overwhelmed, the death rate could rise. Local and state governments could lock things down, extend mask orders, close indoor spaces — or they could do the opposite.
For now, things are looking dire. Half of new cases in Florida are in the 18-24 range.
But the death rate isn’t the only thing to worry about here. Covid-19 has ravaged young people’s lungs, even when they’ve had no other symptoms.
For an athlete, the damage could be career-ending. Recovery is proving to be longer and more difficult than originally thought. Covid has completely sidelined young, healthy patients for months.
The hardest-hit states — Florida, Arizona, California, Georgia, and Texas — are also football talent hotbeds, suggesting many players aren’t much safer at home than they are at school. Black communities are disproportionately affected, and around 57% of college football players are Black.
To continue this discussion, we have to agree that 3-7 player deaths is too many.
If you think that’s a fair price to pay for football — or anything, really — you’re a lost cause and I can’t deal with you. Go ahead and close your browser.
Now then. The Ivy League has moved its fall sports to spring. You may recall that the Ivy League was also the first to cancel its basketball tournaments, a choice many initially thought was overkill. The Ivy was right then and it looks like the Ivy is right now, too.
But the Ivy League moves a little different. Every member school has a multibillion dollar endowment and a deep pool of insanely rich donors. None of the schools offer athletic scholarships. They don’t rely on football money or publicity, and the sports scene isn’t much of a factor in attracting students.
Things are different in the Power Five, where football is a business and probably the only reason most of us have ever heard of Clemson. Desperate to preserve their pigskin profits, conferences are beginning to take half-steps.
The Big Ten has canceled all non-conference play for all sports. The logic, I guess, is that fewer games will lead to fewer opportunities to spread the virus. In football, it also effectively delays the start of the season, since most teams front-load their nonconference games.
Not everyone loves the idea of a Big Ten-only schedule.
¡El Assico! is a fan favorite — though most years I would not use the term “interesting” — and we all hate to lose it. (SB Nation forever.) But Chuck, there’s people that are dying.
The plan also leaves each team with eight or nine opportunities to infect hundreds or thousands of people. The league has offered a compromise that fails to address the real problem, and they’re hoping none of us notice. That’s not very Legends and Leaders of you, B1G.
We might start a college football season this year, but we won’t finish it. I expect dominos to start falling soon, but I’m not sure if that will start with other conferences eliminating nonconference play or if someone will get bold and cancel the entire season. If you have a prediction, feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.
The ACC is trying to figure something out for itself and for Notre Dame. They postponed all fall sports until September, but that’s … not much of a postponement. The Pac-12 is reportedly going to conference-only but hasn’t announced it. If you’re not already following The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, now’s a good time to do that.
As usual, the Big 12 is the dumbest conference
The SEC’s official line was “no comment,” but the subtext of that any everything else the conference does is you’re gonna have to take that football from our cold, dead fingers. They’ll cancel when everyone else cancels, no matter how irresponsible it makes them look. But when it comes to stupid, the Big 12 refuses to lose.
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says "it's a little early" to be making decisions about a sport that’s scheduled to begin in 57 days. Bob, buddy. Shut it down.
This is so hard and so easy
Football season is what I look forward to all year. At some point, it even surpassed college basketball as my favorite sport. In a hellacious year like 2020, nothing would soothe me more than sitting in front of the TV watching college football for 14 hours on a Saturday. It hurts to think of a year with no Heisman race, no college kickers, no Auburn chaos, no College GameDay, no band, no tailgating. But here we are.
The only thing worse than canceling the season would be not canceling the season. Proceeding as usual would mean sacrificing the health and, potentially, lives of young men who aren’t even paid for their labor. College football is already dangerous and exploitative by design. Forcing a season in the middle of a deadly pandemic is too callous even for college football.
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