If it’s not safe enough to play college football, is it safe enough for college kids to be on their school’s campus?
It’s certainly something that Alabama coach Nick Saban has thought about, especially as the Big Ten could move as soon as this week to not play football this fall. University leaders across the country are fearful of how coronavirus cases will spread when students are on campus in the coming weeks and if the coronavirus pandemic makes playing football feasible.
Football programs have implemented social distancing measures across their facilities and testing procedures for their players as a way to keep them safe. So safe, Saban told ESPN, that they were safer with the football team than they were elsewhere.
"We also test anybody that has symptoms and have an open testing site where they can go and get tested as many times as they want or any time they feel like they need to," Saban said. "But 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?' Why has that become the argument?"
Saban’s point is a decent one. The fears about players catching the coronavirus stem from the places they would be going and people they’d be hanging out with outside of the football facility, and the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing those activities would entail. It’s not because football programs aren’t taking lots of extra steps to keep players safe when they’re doing football-related activities. Pushing to cancel or postpone the college football season is a tacit admission that campuses and college towns are ripe for the spread of the coronavirus with or without sports.
And the NCAA and its member schools have put themselves in a position where they can’t go to even more extraordinary lengths to have football and other fall sports in the fall. A bubble scenario similar to the NBA or NHL’s experiment wouldn’t work because it would require schools to treat athletes much differently than other students. And schools have long argued that athletes are just like other students.
Schools have also argued that athletes are amateurs for a long time too. Numerous FCS conferences have already said they won’t play fall sports this year and the NCAA’s Division II and Division III ranks have said they won’t have fall sports championships. Those decisions were made for health and safety reasons and because they aren’t a huge source of revenue like major college football is.
College football is the sport that brings schools and conferences the most television money and props up their athletic budgets. Athletic departments run largely on the money that football provides. That’s why serious discussions about postponing the football season haven’t happened until now in Power Five conferences, though the SEC sure seems content to wait a bit more to make a decision on its football season.
Commissioner Greg Sankey tweeted Monday that the conference was going to keep waiting to make a decision. The league had previously announced that it wouldn’t start its conference-only schedule until Sept. 26 to see how coronavirus cases would trend across the conference after students returned to campus.
Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: “Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.” @SEC has been deliberate at each step since March...slowed return to practice...delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester..— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) August 10, 2020
...Deveoped testing protocols...We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so...every day.— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) August 10, 2020
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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