Risk versus certainty: College football weighs its terrible options
Jay Busbee (Yahoo Sports) — Sometimes, there are no good options. Sometimes, the choice is only between horrendous and devastating.
The entire 2020 college football season sits on the precipice of oblivion. Teams and conferences alike are wrestling with the question of postponing or canceling their most precious, prized and valuable asset. They’re balancing questions of safety for players against certainties of financial and emotional hardship. And they’re trying to make this decision for a sport where passions run among the highest and hottest in the country, where any choice will bring down nuclear heat. Good luck with that.
Put simply: Playing means accepting the possibility of dire health consequences (and associated liability). On the other hand, not playing means the absolute certainty of loss: eight- and nine-figure revenue shortfalls, opportunities missed for players, shared experiences of joy and community for millions of college football fans.
Does the risk of venturing forward outweigh the certainty of shutting down? That’s the question the entire country has wrestled with over the last five months, and now it’s college football’s turn.
The wolf has been lurking since mid-March, and now it’s at the door. What now?
We — and by “we,” I mean Americans in 2020, the media, college football fans, you, me, all of us — polarize, personalize and politicize every argument. We cast ourselves as compassionate, knowledgeable, clear-eyed heroes and our opposition as cruel and naive, intellectually and morally bankrupt.
What if, just as an exercise, we tried a different tactic? What if we looked at arguments on their merits, rather than dunking on them? How does the argument to keep college football going hold up then?
Facts first: On Monday, a coterie of Big Ten coaches, staring down the apparent looming end of their season, spoke out in favor of keeping the season going. Some, like Ohio State’s Ryan Day, cited the work that the players have put in, saying “Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over!”
“I love our players & believe it is my responsibility to help them chase their dreams, both collectively & individually,” tweeted Penn State’s James Franklin. “I am willing to fight WITH them & for our program!”
Others, like Nebraska’s Scott Frost, laid out the stark financial reality of a canceled season: “The biggest factor is if we don’t play football, we’re not going to be able to pay for anything here until we start making money again.”
When one way lies certain devastation, there’s an understandable instinct to at least consider the other way, no matter the risks. Put in basic football terms: When the run isn’t working, you look to the pass. That’s not heartless, that’s just reassessing your options.
All too often, critics of the ongoing push to play college football use arguments that are condescending (the players are just naive kids!), overheated (the universities are sacrificing players to COVID!) or simplistic (shut it down, shut it all down!). But before we go that route, why not just take a bit more time to look down the other road?
It’s entirely possible — let’s be honest, it’s extremely likely — that colleges will determine that the potential health risks are worth the certain financial losses. No college football season is worth the life of even one player, and a normal college football season would have 13,000 of them, not to mention the more at-risk groups associated with a season: coaches, university workers, fans, and so on.
That is a risk, but let’s focus for a moment on certainty. It’s indisputable that football presents the greatest face-to-face contact, and thus the greatest risk of COVID-19 transmission, of all the major sports. But other sports have proven that it’s possible to move forward in a reasonably safe and responsible way. And the NFL will take the field before several of the Power Five conferences do, and you can bet The Shield will do all it can to steer a safe path forward for football.
Plus, players at campuses with in-person attendance won’t automatically be safer from infection just because they’re not playing football. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 30 percent of colleges have already declared that they will be primarily or fully online this fall, with another 27 percent undecided. The virus remains a clear and present danger at the universities that choose to discontinue football but still bring students back to campus. The risk of travel would be gone, but the risk of transmission on a college campus remains a constant possibility.
Alabama’s Nick Saban touched on this very point Monday, noting that Alabama has testing available to players, and contending — with more optimism than scientific certainty — that “our guys aren’t going to catch [the virus] on the football field. They’re going to catch it on campus. The argument then should probably be, ‘We shouldn’t be having school.’ That’s the argument. Why is it, ‘We shouldn’t be playing football?’”
(Granted, the risk-versus-certainty equation doesn’t factor in the moral question of asking players to risk their health and their future for the exact same benefits they’ve always gotten — a scholarship and room and board. Morality’s a separate issue here, and one the players would be wise to play up before they take the field.)
We know a lot more about the pandemic than we did in March, but there’s still so much that we don’t know. We don’t know how well testing will scale up in the coming weeks and months. We don’t know if a vaccine will be widely available in time to preserve even the 2021 season. We don’t yet know the long-term effects of COVID-19 infections. Any of those answers could alter the entire trajectory of the sport.
What we do know, what we’ve seen already all around us, is that the absence of a beloved activity — a sport, a business, a community — has disastrous effects. It’s worth just considering what few options are still possible to avoid that certain devastation.
TrojanDailyBlog members — Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which don’t necessarily pertain to any particular moderator post or member comment.
Horrible decision by the gutless, leaderless PAC 12 presidents. I keep hearing about averting all risks, even though we have, as a free society always managed risks. In California, people 35 and under account for 1.5% of deaths. People over 80, 43%. I need someone to explain how healthy 18-22 year athletes are in grave danger. If my son was playing college football, I would substantially more concerned with CTE, Career ending injuries, paralysis, etc. I can’t explain the Big 10, but our conference, under Larry Scott, is now the Mountain West. And it least some Big 10 coaches have… Read more »
Pac-12 presidents voted 12-0, no football. (Reasonable minds could agree with them IMO, not that I would, but I don’t have all the Covid info). But the Big Ten is in utter turmoil over their decision. Gentleman Clay hasn’t rocked a boat since he last went fishing. He’s the purest of political animals, which is how he got the USC job in the first place, by always playing it safe. But I have to say I think Helton got a little unlucky here. He needed the 2020 season to redeem himself badly, at least in my eyes. Now, we’re all… Read more »
PN4SC– you have not got your mind right yet. You still act as if we, as a society, were governed by the principals of Free Will, Common Sense and Common Law as supported by the US Constitution.
You need to settle into the bliss that is Group Think, Action based in Emotion, and the era of The Law is what Our Overlords say it is. So go along to get along, don’t stand out in the crowd, and by all means KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS TO YOURSELF!
It is what it is.
I forgot that Liberty and freedom are no longer in vogue. My bad.
I need to remind myself that if I just listen to politicians and the MSM, they will take care of everything for me.
Very good summation of todays world.
Pete Thamel @PeteThamel · The Big 12 Presidents are wrapping up their call. The league is going to continue to pursue playing this season. A schedule, which was already prepared, will be released in the near future. This confirms what our @rivals friends at @SoonerScoop reported. The Bleacher Report — The Big 12 will reportedly go ahead with plans to play its college football schedule in the fall, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. It was unclear if the conference would cancel the fall season and attempt to move it to the spring, as both the Big Ten and Pac-12 have… Read more »
Given how the pandemic is going, this was the best decision. If Trump had not screwed up and handled things better, this could have been different.
Extremely well said — and I think you’re smack on.
“Could have been different” is the key. Woulda, coulda, shoulda doesn’t really cut it for some. Kind of like hindsight is 20/20, always easier to call. Personally, I doubt the Pac-12 presidents are from a group out west that would be likely to give Trump any credit for anything he did positive, any time. That’s just the impression I get. I could be wrong. Plus, it’s all pure, unadulterated speculation that any other person as President would have handled the pandemic better. The truth is, from the reports I read, not one single professional or college player has died, or… Read more »
You’re joking right? Sarcasm?
Well, I disagree. But Fight On for the USC of the Golden Era.
Very funny, you sound like Nancy Pelosi and Sleepy Joe Biden.
I keep hearing the liberals saying Trump screwed it all up. They never say what he screwed up and how they would have done it any better. Even the “experts” have been grabbing at straws because of all the unknowns.
I have now learned that there is something worse than having losing season…having no season. Again, the world of academia baffles me to no end.
They are in their own world–Academia, SteveG. That explains everything!
Some hard questions will follow. What does the PAC12 channel do to stay afloat? Will there be a season at all in January like the CIF? Will seniors play, with the draft declaration day looming? Will Clay Helton be granted an extension based on his 2020 loss record? (He lost all of his games this season)
Finally will there be a national champion crowned from the holdouts?
Larry Scott couldn’t answer a question posed to him about possibly playing in January, followed by a 2021 fall season. “We have work to do there,” was what he basically said. Many will obviously laugh at the notion that the health of the players is of primary concern if they are asked to play two seasons in 2021.
Here’s a letter from Carol Folt sent earlier today to the USC BOTs where she suggests that the Big Ten released its decision prematurely today and was supposed to wait and coordinate the release with the Pac-12. Very interesting, how the Pac-12 tried to avert looking like it was playing follow-the-leader, but failed. Dear Trustees, You may have read that the Big 10 has decided to postpone all Fall sports, include football, until the Spring. This morning the Pac 12 made the same decision. The idea was that we would release the information at the same time, but the Big 10… Read more »
All eyes are on the Big 10 & SEC because of the respect they have from its leadership in supporting their sports programs. Why would the Big 10 want to align itself with a loser conference in announcing a major decision.
You’ll have to ask Carol Folt about that. She’s the one who said, “The idea was that we would release the information at the same time.”
Here is the official statement from the PAC 12:
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Pac-12 Commish Larry Scott says. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
See the attached statement from USC.
Click on the picture to see a full size view.
time to leave the Pac-12. bohn/sosna – can you put together a financial analysis of how to leave this lame conference behind?
It is official, Larry Scott anounces that PAC 12 will cancel/postpone all sport winter sports until 2021. You can watch the discussion on the PAC 12 network right now.
i really cant even listen to “news” outlets anymore. just a bunch of hysteria.
we need more solid actions by government and less crazy talk that just scares people.
Joe Biden has named Kamala Harris as his running mate.
pure identity politics.
There together are a ton of accomplishments. Maybe he can chase her around the basement for a while.
Harris is a horrible human being being, who stands for nothing, and will do or say anything to get ahead. A perfect choice for Senile Joe.
Kamala’s father has stated on the record that their family ancestors in Jamaica were indeed slave owners.
Been wanting to type this Allen Wallace and John Weld this is one of the BEST blog/forums on the internet (Much more civil than forums here in NY Metro area) and it good for me 3000 miles away to have a USC Specific place for info/opinions ….Keep it up ……..FIGHT ON !
Kirk Herbstreit predicts that once Covid has run its course in the U.S., the Power 5 conferences will each break away from the NCAA, form their own league with their own commissioner and do their own thing,
I sure hope he is right
The Pac-12 has already officially decided to postpone the 2020 season (12-0 vote) per Brett McMurphy. No real news.
The Pac-12 will formally announce its decision to play or not to play in 2020 at 1:30 PT. We all know the Pac-12 has already decided not to play.
The Athletic reporting that Pac-12 is having a webinar at 1:30 PM (Cal time ) “To discuss the outcome of todays meeting”
On ESPN right now Herb Kirkstreit not looking too happy.
The Decision Is In!
There will be no Big Ten football in the fall.
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel and The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported the conference’s presidents voted to cancel a fall season with the possibility of playing football in the spring.
There you go.
Big Ten Network just gave up waiting….. Gonna start showing replays of old big 10 games they did say the NEW rumor is that it will not be a cancellation announcement but an announcement of pushing back the first week of the season (For whatever that “rumor” is worth “).
Last quarter of 1998 MICH/WSU Rose Bowl was pretty darned exciting and is on now.
Sure would like to see any “cancellation announcement” postponed. That would be a major victory at this stage. The Pac-12 would sheepishly follow along, I suppose, which would also be a victory (assuming you are one of those who wants a 2020 CFB season to be played).
Allen, wasn’t that when Ryan Leaf wasn’t such a head-case? What a gigantic NFL-bust he turned out too be.
First I want everybody safe as possible ….As I am not a doctor I do not know what the right thing is (I guess) . I do realize that there are two adamant sides to this (health safety people vs players and coaches who want to play)…….The part that bugs me right now is why can’t the Pac-12 make up its own mind on what it wants to do instead of doing what(to me at least) looks like hiding behind the Big-10…….Why not show people that the Pac-12 (as a Conference) can lead the way one way or the other…….As… Read more »
The BTN is now back to regular programming (beginning of 4th Q of 1998 MICH vs WSU Rose Bowl). They are still waiting for any news to come down about the Big Ten’s final decision. I would imagine it’s pretty wild behind closed doors.
I continue to believe fall sports will be cancelled or postponed. It is the only safe way to go right now. Even for those programs who will defiantly play other willing teams, they will have to constantly test their players almost daily. And what happens when just one player tests positive? The security of the team is now broken and the other opponents will refuse to play you. And the liability of the matter if a player is seriously endangered enough testing positively while with the team? Will a university’s liability insurance cover that? This has to be as much… Read more »
Hopefully, the SEC, the ACC and the Big 12 won’t become dominoes. The Pac-12 has no backbone, so they would automatically follow the Big Ten’s lead.
I have Big Ten Network in my TV Package …….They just said now “Still waiting to hear “
They cancelled all their scheduled telecasts today and are doing a studio show only doing interviews after interviews with Big 10 personnel and Big 10 beat writers right now.
I’m watching. Bruce Feldman is being interviewed now on the BTN.
Typical Pac-12 Network — old programming and games as usual. No change in anything despite the urgency of the times we are experiencing.
CBS TV Just said …….Remember all these conferences (and teams) have 60…….70……80 million dollar TV contracts that in the first paragraph say ” We (the TV company) pay this money BASED on conference teams not breaking alliance with their conference…..Per CBS Sports they ARE GONNA WANT EVERY PENNY OF THAT BACK if a team breaks their alliance with the conference they are in ……BET THE NEBRESKA COACH DOES NOT KNOW THIS !
I don’t think anyone thinks a school will actually be able to bolt its own conference to play. The lawyers are running the show as usual, because of liability questions across the board. A lot of these public statements from big-name coaches are being made to somehow influence the decision on whether to postpone. However, all contracts are breakable and are sometimes “adjustable” to accommodate power, position and the future. Teams like OHIO ST and NEB have a lot of clout. How they choose to exercise that that power is what has become so interesting these last 72 hours. I… Read more »
TheBlaze.com — A rapidly evolving situation The Big Ten, one of college football’s elite “Power Five” conferences, has voted to cancel the fall football season because of COVID-19 health and safety concerns, according to the Detroit Free Press. Presidents for the conference’s 14 universities reportedly voted 12-2 to cancel the fall season, with Iowa and Nebraska as the two schools that voted to play, according to sources who spoke to the Free Press anonymously because they weren’t authorized to talk about it publicly yet. A heart condition linked to COVID-19 has been found in five Big Ten athletes, reportedly fueling concerns about whether… Read more »
Yardbarker.com (updated 8/11/20) — Ryan Day: Ohio State will consider conference switch if needed Many of those involved with the Ohio State football program appear to badly want to play this fall, and their head coach says they are willing to explore many options to make this happen. Ryan Day said on ESPN Monday that the Buckeyes are open to exploring another conference to play in. “If that’s the only option at the time we need to explore it,” Day said, via Dennis Dodd. The Big Ten reportedly has been leaning towards canceling the college football season, which has led to… Read more »
The latest on CFB! Bruce Feldman — “I’m somewhere in the middle now (on whether the season will be played). You’re hearing a lot now that the Pac-12 and Big Ten are concerned with heart issues linked to Covid. And the Pac-12 has discussed that they must ramp up their testing, and test daily in hotspot areas. It’s just a really chaotic time in the sport right now.” Nick Saban said yesterday, “I can test my guys every day.” Reason — they’ve got the money to do exactly that. Some programs don’t. Donald Trump (Twitter) — “Play College Football! The… Read more »
This is a very poorly reasoned article. If the issue is Covid (which honestly I doubt), then the analysis should be (a) what is the risk if the kid does not come to school at all and (b) what is the risk if the kid comes to school and plays. The first (and necessary point) in the analysis is totally absent from the article. Until that risk can be defined, you cannot move to the second step. I did not invent this analysis: Chris Arledge on WeAreSC was the first to point this out. I understand that Scott Frost of… Read more »
I think that there is a very strange panic around athletes playing sports, when there are many front-line workers who are getting exposed every day to the virus and have little to no protections. The flimsy masks that people wear do help to prevent a sick person from spreading as many germs, but they do very little to help a healthy person from coming into contact with the virus that is in any environment. This is getting absurd. There are alot of places and ways people can get infected. If the athletes all get tested a twice a week, and… Read more »
GameTV, Right on point. Something is VERY wrong with the bureucracies running our colleges and universities. I could opine as to what the problems are, but that would be pure speculation on my part. But, your point is extremely well taken.
I cannot believe Nick Saban said this —“our guys aren’t going to catch [the virus] on the football field. They’re going to catch it on campus.” To which Busbee writes –“The argument then should probably be, ‘We shouldn’t be having school.’ That’s the argument. Why is it, ‘We shouldn’t be playing football?’” Maybe it’s just me, but the level of certainty/confidence that they won’t get ill playing football doesn’t compute — but hey, maybe my old habit as a consultant of using a risk/reward analysis approach to major decisions is flawed. I do know this — the financial hit for… Read more »
Terrific Tommy – I think the reason they can be pretty sure the athletes wont be contracting the illness from playing the sport is related to the extensive testing that they will put in place. If you can isolate any infected athletes from their teammates, then the risk of infection just plummets. South Korea is the perfect example. They currently have 34 new cases a day, which is essentially zero. All based on massive testing, contact tracing and wearing masks. Isolate the people who are infected and make sure everyone they have been in contact with also gets tested. If… Read more »
Athletes are much safer based on testing facts. It’s not even in dispute. You have to have an “agenda” (which too many in America seem to now have) to ignore that established fact.