Mark Whicker: Spring football is the right move for Pac-12, maybe for good…
The fallen leaves do not crackle as you walk toward the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl or Sun Devil Stadium. Octobers in L.A. do not bring sweater weather. Pac-12 football will not be played this fall, and, sure, that will leave a void. It will be no more painful than losing your 10 o’clock worship or your monthly hair appointment and not nearly as dislocating as losing your job.
As the 40,000 or so empty seats at most UCLA home games will tell you, we can get through this.
The pandemic has tested everything we have, including our emotional maturity. NBA and NHL fans are just happy that their leagues figured out a playoff plan that, so far, has worked impressively. (The hockey playoffs would be the greatest show in sports if they were conducted on a broken-off glacier, floating from Greenland.)
In cringeworthy fashion, Lou Holtz said that the stormers of Normandy knew they might get shot and went ahead anyway, so let’s not even think about postponing Boston College vs. Syracuse.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost says that the Cornhuskers might defy the Big Ten and look for people they can beat, which might be a long search.
Dabo Swinney, who gets $9.3 million a year to coach Clemson, helpfully tells us the virus “isn’t going away,” so, hey, we might as well play. That’s like saying we should quit enforcing DUI laws because alcoholism isn’t going away.
Players like Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite, quite understandably want to keep going. Their love for the game feeds everyone else but them. But their scholarships will be honored and their lost season, if it is indeed lost, will be restored.
The Big Ten’s decision took more gumption, merely because of the football zeal that consumes Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin. For only the second time since 2003, the Buckeyes will not beat Michigan this November.
Football is far more central to the Upper Midwest’s nervous system than to the West Coast’s. And both regions have done a better job controlling the virus than the states in the SEC, a league that is speeding ahead, lest armed rebellion break out.
“It just means more” is the SEC slogan, and it obviously means more than health. Texas has a 20 percent average positivity rate over the past seven days. Mississippi is at 20.5, Georgia at 18.9, Alabama at 15, Florida at 17 and South Carolina 13.7.
California is at 5.8, Oregon 6.3 and Arizona 12. By the way, New York’s positivity rate is 0.9 percent. Anybody want to build a bubble there?
The SEC, ACC, Big 12 and American conferences haven’t announced fall plans, and obviously they won’t play to capacity. But until the South and Southwest can stomp out those positivity and hospitalization rates, every locker room becomes a potential hot zone after every practice, meeting and meal.
Their chances of doing that depend entirely on their fans, the same ones who are howling “War Eagle” at the moon and putting Dr. Anthony Fauci on dartboards. They all know what to do. We all do. States and nations that have convinced people to wear masks and walk alone have made a slow return to real life. At this point, it’s not coincidence. If it slows down commerce at Buffalo Wild Wings, well, we all have crosses to bear.
As Oregon President Michael Schill reminded the world, “This takes place in universities where they’re getting an education. I would tell the athletes to focus on the classwork, try to get ahead.”
How quaint. And if you’re worried about having two hard football seasons in one calendar year, don’t be. Once football moves to the top of 2021, it can stay there.
Use the January 1 bowl games as a dazzling Opening Day, for all the Alabama-USC and Oregon-OSU games that kick off the seasons now.
Start in the bad weather. Finish in the good.
Play an Apple Cup game when apples actually grow. Identify a champion in late April.
How would that disrupt college basketball? How would it work with the NFL draft? Those are complex questions, yes. They aren’t life and death.
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