“The positivity train has died a quick death.”

This is what constitutes leadership at the college football level.

Herbstreit’s comments set off what became a months-long information war over how the coronavirus could affect college sports. College athletics leaders, realizing the devastation early on if Herbstreit’s prediction proved true, kicked off a battle to control the narrative. For some within college athletics, that meant publicly projecting optimism and reiterating they planned to go ahead like normal. There was too much money at stake, they reasoned privately, to give credence to such potentially disastrous hypotheticals. They preached patience, hope, resolve — anything they could think of to give fans reason to believe football would still happen.

College administrators were petrified of other prominent figures joining Herbstreit in deeming this year’s season a lost cause, fearful it could speak their worst-case scenario into existence. If no one thinks football will happen, they worried, why would anyone buy season tickets? Or donate money? With revenue streams already disrupted by COVID-19 and athletic departments facing potential financial ruin without football, there was no incentive to publicly project gloom and doom.

Even if they knew better.

“We all need to be positive and not negative at this time,” one AD said at the time. “Being negative like Kirk was (in his comments) is not helpful to anybody. A lot of people are really disappointed and surprised he would do that.”

Another athletic director described the early pessimism as a targeted PR campaign and warned against watching too much cable news COVID-19 coverage because “you can convince yourself things are far worse than they really are.” Athletic directors and football coaches with similar viewpoints felt the need to fight back against the early narratives football wouldn’t happen, banking on the situation markedly improving by July or August.

Gotta get those deposits in the door first, then we can worry about the pandemic later.

Step two:  faking common ground.

The Power 5 conference commissioners held daily conference calls during the pandemic and promised to stick together. On a May appearance on Finebaum’s show, Sankey said the notion that one of the Power 5 conferences would break off to do its own thing was “not attached to reality.” Yet, despite the talk of better connectivity than ever among college football’s top conferences, their leaders seemed to undermine each other almost daily with conflicting comments. Early on, no Power 5 commissioner was more candid than the Big 12′s Bob Bowlsby, delighting reporters and invoking grumbling from others in college athletics. With all the different approaches from college football’s power players, it became increasingly difficult to present an actually unified front.

NARRATOR’S VOICE:  There never was a united front.

“They want to put a happy, smiley face on everything in the public eye, but behind the scenes, make no mistake, the SEC is going to do what’s best for the SEC, the Big 12 is going to do what’s best for Big 12 and you can say that with every conference,” McMurphy said. “After that’s decided, if they can do something that’s good for college football they’ll do that without compromising their own conferences. I don’t think it’s selfish; it’s just how college football is.”

All that’s left now is to plead with the folks they’ve crapped on.

The SEC, Big 12 and ACC are all looking at the end of July to make a decision on the viability of the upcoming season. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made big moves but the Big Ten’s Warren recently warned the conference could still cancel the football season altogether. In theory, college football has two weeks to figure out whether it can start a fall season as planned.

During those two weeks, college athletics leaders will closely monitor the coronavirus case trends, testing capabilities, the capacity of local hospitals to handle infected patients and any new developments in treatment plans or vaccines. But the most important thing they’ll do is beg, plead and cajole the public to take the pandemic seriously if they want football this fall.

Yeah, if we want football this fall.

“I fully understand why athletic directors and conference commissioners have fought vigorously to get college football going,” Finebaum said. “You don’t need a Ph.D. in mathematics from M.I.T. to understand that. It is about the money.”

When they say it’s about the money…


Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple

16 responses to ““The positivity train has died a quick death.”

  1. Finebaum talking about the effect of big money on college athletics is priceless. He sat there at the Birmingham News and on WJOX cheering what was going on just down the road in Tuscaloosa with Nick Saban’s professionalization of football at the University of Alabama (the money, the roster management, the facilities, etc.). He then left his pretty good job to get paid immensely to spout the same garbage at the SEC Network and ESPN. For him now to be the muckraker seems to be a lack of self-awareness at best and hypocritical at worst.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reipar

    Just a one day personal observation from traveling through north East Georgia Thursday but if masks do make a difference almost nobody is wearing them up there. If college football is relying on the people to wear masks then I don’t think we are going to have college football.


    • Are they wearing them inside businesses? I don’t measure this by what’s happening outside. I look at people going in and out of stores and see most people with one on in North Fulton and Gwinnett.

      I’m sorry, but I don’t like using football (or lack thereof) as the carrot and stick.


  3. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    Deny, deny, deny…. good advice for your criminal defendant clients. Not very good advice for people in leadership positions. This isn’t just here; it’s everywhere. The doctor in Wuhan who first realized this was different than the flu got hammered by his government who didn’t want a panic.

    Two weeks left to make a decision. What’s going to change in two weeks? I think they are working on a new way to kick the can down the road.


    • I hope the stats trend in a positive direction in a couple of weeks. All it’s going to do is give the powers that be just enough cover to play without fans in the stands (except some big donors, players’ families, and recruits on official visits). Each school will then begin to focus on how to keep people off campus on game weekends for tailgating (or to allow socially distanced tailgating in paid spots like the Bulldog Tailgate Club).


  4. Bright Idea

    The politics of the pandemic has made optimism a dirty word, so if college football stalls only to be optimistic about October or the spring, what will be different? It appears a short delay with a firm start date of mid September or forget about it until a vaccine or the virus is gone, which may be never is the way to go. Everybody wearing a mask, which I do, and teams practicing with an uncertain timeline will not solve this. Either choose to live with the virus and play or do without football and the money. There’s no win-win in this.


    • gastr1

      I agree with your post, but for your open…I think “optimism” is only a dirty thing if it comes off as denial. Optimism with a plan, such as Fauci talking about a vaccine, not so dirty. Your last two sentences…yeah.


      • Bright Idea

        Fauci talking about a vaccine is optimism with a plan? Please enlighten me.


        • Dylan Dreyer's Booty

          By and large vaccines work. So that is a reason to be optimistic. And the plan would be to work on that idea. Culling the herd – which is what herd immunity amounts to – is doing nothing and seeing what happens. It really isn’t a plan; it’s just easy. It will happen anyway if there is no credible vaccine developed, but it seems like a good idea to try the vaccine approach first.
          As much R & D as is currently going on for a vaccine (there are dozens of different competitors globally) it is probably prudent not to expect a working vaccine too soon. By working I mean largely successful and without serious side effects. The science is changing as research continues, but at this time we have good news and bad news. The good news is that so far this virus isn’t mutating wildly; the last thing I read is that there have only been a couple of mutations noted in all the cases there have been. Mutations is part of what limits the effectiveness of vaccines for common influenza. The bad news is that this virus is very complicated; besides being viral in nature and some common symptoms there are few similarities with this virus and the flu. In fact, this virus is more similar to HIV, Ebola, and Sars. While we have been calling it Covid-19, scientists call it Sars-Cov-2 because it is more like Sars than flu.
          Those viruses have been difficult to get a good handle on, vaccine-wise.

          So, we all want football back, and we want it this fall, especially people who frequent this board, and Dawg fans in general, because we’re loaded this year and are optimistic. The only question is, how much are we as a society willing to pay? And I am not talking about money here.

          Liked by 1 person

          • trbodawg

            Thank you.


          • DDB, great points all. The question is how much of life including our health (physical, emotional, spiritual and financial) are we willing to give up during the wait for either (1) a proven, tested vaccine, (2) a reliable anti-viral therapy or (3) herd immunity. I’m no epidemiologist but I have been in the business world for about 30 years. The lockdowns and the restrictions aren’t sustainable on individuals, families, businesses and communities.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. FlyingPeakDawg

    There is no reason athletic departments should go broke except for mismanagement. Wait…

    Liked by 2 people