Thursday, August 27, 2020

College Football Fumbles the Coronavirus

College Football Fumbles the Ball Sports Illustrated quoted a TV executive saying “It’s athletic directors, coaches and players versus presidents, trustees and lawyers in the most intriguing battle in NCAA history.” College football is passion, fierce rivalries, intense loyalties, Hail Mary’s and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, broken spirits, mascots, cheerleaders, and marching bands. College football is money. The Big Ten Conference, comprised of 14 – not 10 – universities, announced as expected the end of all fall sports. It was soon followed by the Pac 12, also as expected. The ACC, Big 12, and SEC are continuing to play, or so they profess. The ACC and SEC are quite willing to go it alone, playing each other, ad nauseum, for the national title: LSU, Clemson, Alabama, Clemson, Alabama, OHIO STATE, Florida State, Alabama, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Florida. 13 of the past 14 winners are from the two conferences. The other three conferences really don’t matter even if TOSU, Penn State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Oklahoma, Washington, and Notre Dame occasionally butt in. Football is the state religion of Alabama. The key to the Big Ten and Pac 12 is that, with no disrespect to the colleges in the other conferences, they view themselves as academic institutions first: Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Northwestern, Michigan, not to mention UW, WSU, CO, UTAH, UA, ASU, OREGON, OSU, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State, Indiana, MSU, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska and Rutgers, all academic powerhouses. They believe in academics, first. The problem for these schools is that the student athletes need to become students in the fall. Let us not forget Cardale Jones, freshman QB at Ohio State, asking the question; “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, classes are pointless.” He actually graduated from TOSU. President Mark Schlissel of Michigan is a dual MD-PH.D. Public Health. His specialty is immunology. He made it clear in May that he was willing to cancel football if necessary. If students weren’t back on campus, then there will be no football or other fall sports. The University of North Carolina just opened up for live classes, and then shut down after a week to go virtual. Too many students tested positive for Covid-19. Will UNC continue to play football? North Carolina State followed North Carolina in going virtual. Will N.C State continue to play football? Notre Dame just shut down the campus. Will the Fighting Irish continue to play football? The University of Alabama just announced 538 members of the university’s faculty, staff, and students have tested positive for Covid. Football is the priority 1. I am a passionate Michigan fan, who holds season tickets high up between the 45 and 50 yard lines. My wife and I were in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1998 when Michigan defeated Washington State to go undefeated and share the national title; it’s first in 50 years. I recognize that it might be another 50 years, past my lifetime, before Michigan wins the big game again. Many Michigan boosters want Jim Harbaugh fired. He just hasn’t won enough of the “big games to satisfy them. Like Notre Dame, Michigan has admissions and ethical standards, especially in recruiting, it will not violate. It was burnt once on basketball. Never again! John Beilein might never have won a basketball game at Michigan, but he returned integrity to the game and school while building a winning program. He built a solid program on integrity. Yes, I bleed when they lose to Ohio State, but it’s only a game. Football is a game; we don’t want it to be a life. The young players want to play. They want to burnish their CV’s for the pros. They want to improve their skills. The military likes young (men) to fight because they tend to be in better shape and don’t yet believe in mortality. They will beats the odds. Brady Feeney, a freshman football lineman at Indiana, survived the virus, but now suffers from myocarditis, recognized as a complication of the virus. Ten players in the Big Ten have been diagnosed with myocarditis. Mikele Colasurdo, an incoming freshman Georgia State quarterback, also has myocarditis. . All five conferences have great medical schools. They all receive the studies on the virus. They understand the risks. They understand the risks of myocarditis and other complications of the virus. The difference is how they weigh the risks. The Director of Sports Cardiology at Ohio State’s study showed 15 of the athletes who experienced the virus, even if they had mild or no symptoms, has myocarditis. University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins is a cardiac surgeon. He understands. Kevin Warren, Big Ten Commissioner, said “The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of our every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward…. It became abundantly clear that there was so much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow out student-athletes to compete this fall.” Larry Scott, Pac 12 Commissioner, said: “Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble.” He added “The health, safety and wellbeing of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the star of this current crisis.” President Emeritus Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan, an ardent football fan, explained: “I’ve heard people say. ‘Well, we can use the model of [some pro sports]and put them in a bubble. You can’t put them is a bubble, because they’re students and they have to go to class. I mean, if they’re on campus and they’re not going to class, they’re not learning anything, then it isn’t any longer the academic environment. It flies in the face of what the NCAA means.” Football is a contact sport with athletes face to face in combat. The student athletes attend class where they can be exposed to the virus. They will also attend parties with a great risk of spread. Several universities including Berkeley, Kansas, Mississippi, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Purdue, USC and Washington have confronted Covid-19 outbreaks at fraternity parties and other large gatherings. Student athletes are part of the student milieu. I believe the vast majority of the young athletes are in good health and will experience mild symptoms or be asymptomatic. I also believe they can transmit the virus to others, teammates, students faculty, friends and family members. I further believe that some of them have preexisting conditions that will make them vulnerable. Finally, some of the athletes experiencing covid-19 will suffer from myocarditis or other complications. The percentages may not be known today, but the risk is a real fact. All five conferences have great law schools and outside counsel. They all get the same legal advice about potential liability if their athletes contract the disease. They understand the risks. Some are willing to accept the risks, risking the lives of their players and families. The players want to play. The coaches want to coach. The athletic directors want the revenue. Fox and ESPN want to broadcast the Big Ten and Pac 12 games. Fans want to be in the stands and sports bars. The two conferences and their teams will lose billions of dollars in ticket sales, gameday revenues, parking, and TV revenues. Football pays the bills for the other sports except basketball. The Big 10 and Pac 12 universities will incur large monetary losses from the fall cancellations. The Big Ten and its members earned $1.9 billion from football and the Pac 12 $1.3 billion last year. Stanford months ago estimated a $50 million loss and cancelled 11 sports, including 9 Olympic sports. Oregon anticipates a $50-80 million loss. Rutgers is similarly facing a $50 million loss. The parent universities are also facing losses from the pandemic. The University of Michigan is looking at a $400-450 million loss. The impact on the local economies is also great. The impact of football on Ann Arbor economy is estimated to be $122 million for restaurants, sports bars, hotels, and other expenses. It’s $130 million for the State College economy. Here’s my proposal for college football this fall. Schedule two brackets. First is a round robin between Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU, with the winner crowned national champs. The second bracket is for Michigan to play Ohio State in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2020. No fans at any of these games. All other teams can sit out the season, and go to class.

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