football

College Football Faces a Question It Can’t Ignore

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

 The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

What a rejuvenating day in the greatest city in the world. You could get your hair done, eat lunch outdoors, pray in the house of worship of your choice and frolic with your kids in a playground.

Just thinking about tossing the football on a gorgeous summer day and pretend to be Brees to Thomas evokes the feeling you experience when you enter The Big House or Memorial Stadium (Clemson, Nebraska, USC, et al) or the Rose Bowl and see the sun set on the San Gabriel mountains.

The first college football games are scheduled to kick off less than three months from Saturday. Georgia plays Virginia 11 weeks from today. A lot can happen in three months as we have painfully learned. Our world came to a terrifying, screeching halt three months ago when a disease of our nightmares became a reality.

Many of us have lost loved ones and jobs. Businesses have folded. Vacations cancelled. Schools redefined. No hugging. No handshakes. Masks.

How glorious will it be to walk through the parking lot of any college campus on a football Saturday or Thursday night. Alums from the Class of 1960, proudly wearing their varsity sweater, tailgating next to students in the Class of 2021, audaciously donning their university tank top.

Frisbees wheeling overhead as games of Cornhole draw laughter when a contestant flat out misses the 2×4 foot board. Cold beer. Barbecue. Eight-foot subs. Grandma’s collard greens. Hot Dogs. Burgers. Dad’s baked beans. Coleslaw. Peach cobbler.

Did we mention cold beer?

Cheerleaders and mascots leading teams out of the tunnel. Boomer Schooner not tipping over. “R! U!” “Go Canes!” “Hook ‘em Horns!”

Kickoff!

In some 35 years of covering sports, nothing has been more thrilling on a consistent basis than college football: LSU at night. Notre Dame on a crisp autumn afternoon. The view from Husky Stadium. The entire stadium swaying at Kyle Field when Aggie War Hymn is sung. Wisconsin’s Jump!

The “Iowa Wave,” the best new tradition in college football – by far.

Since March Madness was canceled, college football became my lighthouse for the return of live sports. Late-August/early-September was far enough away to be seen and hope games would be played.

It remains only a hope. Now a fading hope.

Some 30 players at defending champion LSU have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Clemson has reported 23. Kanas State, 14 and Houston, 6. Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Marshall have reported positive tests.

At UCLA, which is scheduled to begin “voluntary” football practice today, 30 players signed a petition demanding a third-party health official oversee COVID-19 prevention protocols because they do not believe the university will act in their best interest. Minor point here – that’s really going to help in recruiting.

 College football, you might remember, is a multi-billion business. Forget the millions being paid to head coaches and the money spent on advertising and radio rights. There are businesses in every college town – from the stadium vendors, to the small motel owners, to the local apparel stores that depend on the college football season for their livelihood.

The decision whether to play college football this fall is a monumentally difficult, emotional and complex one. Some football players that have been training, practicing and playing since Pop Warner are counting on this season to enhance their chances of a profession career.

What if playing ends that career, ends a life?

Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell lost the narrative when he said he wouldn’t pitch, “unless I get mine.” But he made some legitimate points: What if he contracts COVID-19 and is never able to pitch again?

Snell has a union fighting for him, albeit one that has proven to be as inept and obstinate as MLB. College football players don’t have a union. And 18-to-22-year-old males need some checks because many believe they couldn’t die of COVID-19 if they ate a raw bat.

So, here’s what needs to happen: An elite polling agency needs to anonymously survey players and learn A. Do they want to play while COVID-19 remains an active threat and B. What health procedures and policies do they want in place in order to feel confident their well-being will always be the primary concern.

Then we can make a decision on whether the season can be played. The hope is that college football has a full uninterrupted season. The hope is that two schools outside of the perennial powers make the playoff – Oregon? Texas?

The hope is that colleges and universities from sea to shining season experience that bond known as college football.

But if there’s a legitimate risk that one parent’s son dies or is physically or cognitively compromised for the rest of his life because of decisions made for the wrong reasons – greed, passion, hubris – college football’s perennial luster will be tarnished forever.

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