College football is in a precarious situation.
Unlike the NFL and MLB, who are moving forward with their seasons despite COVID-19 infiltrating their ranks, the NCAA’s pool of players is entirely comprised of unpaid amateur athletes. Sportscaster Bob Costas said it best when he recently addressed the expectation that student-athletes should risk their health and safety in order to generate billions of dollars for everyone but themselves.
“Think of the size of football rosters and think of the nature of the sport with contact on every play. And then, think about college football,” Costas explained on CNN’s Facts & Fears: Coronavirus Town Hall. “The idea of playing college football under these circumstances, players not compensated, no union to protect them. That’s unconscionable.”
And while various teams and conferences mull their options, UConn has decided to graciously bow out of their upcoming season entirely. Citing the guidance of state and public health officials, UConn becomes the 1st FBS program to do so.
“We’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season,” David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said in a statement. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
In making their decision, UConn sought input from their roster of student-athletes.
“The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team,” Benedict added. “Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season.”
As the headline of this article alludes to, this is kind of a big deal and could be the first domino to fall in what may lead to the eventual cancelation of the entire NCAA football season.
On Wednesday, players from the Big Ten conference released a 24-point plan, aptly titled the “Big Ten Unity Proposal,” that outlines their concerns regarding the safety measures in place to address COVID-19.
“The NCAA—which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement—has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing,” their statement reads. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”
But as this statement notes, this proposal is only from players representing a single conference. What about the other nine conferences and the 130 schools they’re comprised of?
Another option on the table is pushing college football back into the string.
“I think we need to be prepared to do it, and I think it should be viewed as a viable option,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN in July. “We’re going to learn so much from the NBA and NHL and Major League Baseball in the next few weeks, and if, for example, those efforts go poorly, it’s probably going to be a really critical data point for us, and we’ll argue for [a] delay. If that occurs, I think you’ve gotta be open to the spring.”
Uhhhh... as increased positive coronavirus tests and subsequent postponements have proven, “those efforts” are definitely going poorly in Major League Baseball. And as for the NFL, both big-name athletes and role players have opted out of participating this upcoming season—a total of 50 and counting.
With billions of dollars at stake, I expect the NCAA to put up the fight of its life and proceed with its plans for college football this fall. But as UConn has proven already, the NCAA might not have a choice.