Category Archives: The Body Is A Temple

“A better future for college football players?” Why would anybody think that’s needed?

Some thoughtful words from Bill Connelly:

Every organization has its flaws and cracks — you just never know when and how they might get exposed.

The many cracks in college football’s infrastructure — from how players are treated to the sport’s leadership vacuum — have been exposed in a single offseason.

At some point, the athletes were going to push back in force…

Here are a few examples of those cracks, just from the last couple of days:

  • From the Virginia Tech cornerback who was the first high-profile player to bail on the 2020 college football season:  “I started having deep concerns about staying healthy,” Farley wrote in the article, posted to the website on Sunday. “Guys were going home, going to Myrtle Beach, coming back to campus, and we weren’t getting tested. We’re all together, working out, close to each other, and you have no real idea who might have it, if anybody might have it. One day I looked around, and we were like 100-deep in our indoor facility, no masks. My concern grew more and more.”  Virginia Tech’s response is oh so reassuring.
  • We’re just out here getting gaslit en masse by our university.
  • “A University of Louisville athletics document that had been characterized as a pledge to follow COVID-19 protocols reads instead like a blanket release of legal claims.”
  • “The same ones handling these regulations are the ones set to make millions if we play,” Daltoso said. “If our health and safety was No. 1, we wouldn’t be on campus.”

Seriously, we’re supposed to be surprised that there’s an organized reaction to this?

And for those of you who try to split the baby by conceding the #WeAreUnited players may have a point about concern over their health and working conditions, but that their economic demands are a bridge too far, it’s not easy to separate the two, as Connelly explains.

The shame comes when you bring back athletes without centralized, enforceable health-and-safety protocols. And it comes when, after you have acknowledged the desperate importance of athletes to your school’s well-being, you continue to actively and forcefully resist these athletes’ attempts to recognize their economic rights.

The NCAA has long insisted that college athletes are normal students taking in a normal student experience. But the fact they have been on campus at all proves they’re different from normal students. That they probably will remain on campus, working to represent their school and earn it money even if or when most of the student population is away, attending school remotely during this ongoing crisis, proves they’re different.

After giving schools permission to bring players back during a pandemic and asking them to take on physical risk in the name of their university’s financial health, the NCAA continues to restrict players’ ability to make money off of their time serving said university. And if anyone remained on the fence regarding whether this sport is fair enough to the athletes who will forever be the engine of all revenue and popularity, this great paradox of 2020 should have held sway.

Another way of looking at this:  if you honestly believed before this season that players were being fairly compensated for their efforts, now that the COVID risk has been added to the pot, how can you argue they’re still being fairly compensated when nothing has changed on that side of the equation?  How far can you stretch amateurism?

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Why we (probably) can’t have nice things.

Shot.

However, three public health experts in the state of Georgia aren’t optimistic for a variety of reasons, including the continued spread of the coronavirus and potential fissures within the testing system designed to ensure that only players free of COVID-19 can take the field.

“The athletes can do everything right; the coaches can do everything right, but when the community spread around them is so high, that bubble just isn’t going to stand up,” said Travis Glenn, a professor of environmental health science at the University of Georgia. “It just isn’t. So that’s the problem.”

The rate of community transmission is an initial concern.

“I think I was much more hopeful earlier in the year (for college football), that we would have a little bit more manageable control,” said Christina Proctor, a clinical assistant professor and colleague of Glenn’s in the College of Public Health at UGA. “And now that things have gotten worse, I’m very worried that it’s not going to happen. And I’m an avid fan.”

… Glenn acknowledged that athletic departments and coaches can limit their athletes’ exposure to a great deal, for example by encouraging them to enroll only in online courses and mandating mask usage.

However, “these are 18- to 22-year olds that are going to see other people,” he said. “They just are. And so that’s what’s going to make it really, really hard.”

Chaser.

Once classes begin, the football program can no longer isolate players in a block of rooms at the Georgia Center Hotel. Some alternate lodging plans might be made for players, but we don’t yet know those and it won’t be around-the-clock supervision and prep as it normally is during preseason camp.

… Should the Bulldogs have to wait until after classes begin to start practice, then you’re probably looking at a schedule just as tight as it normally is to make up for some lost time. Still, there’ll have to be pauses for COVID-19 testing because, at that point, players will have presumably been in contact with other students.

This is so, so stupid.  But it’s what to expect when following the advice of public health experts takes a back seat to protecting the economic status quo by insisting that the same kids you need to earn your millions from ESPN have to be treated like every other student on campus.

I hope none of them get sick, but if they do, the rationalizations we’ll hear from McGarity and Morehead are going to make me want to throw things through a wall.  It would almost (almost because that would suck for those of us who just want to watch them play) serve them right if it wound up costing them the revenues from a football season they so badly crave.

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Filed under Georgia Football, The Body Is A Temple

A pandemic power play

Shot.

In anticipation of the NCAA Board of Governors potentially canceling or postponing fall sports championships, Power 5 conference leaders have begun exploring the possibility of staging their own championships in those affected sports, multiple sources have told Sports Illustrated. This could be seen as a first step toward a long-theorized breakaway from the NCAA by the 65 schools that play college sports at the highest level.

The Board of Governors, comprised primarily of university presidents and chancellors from all levels of the NCAA, has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. At that time it is expected to make a decision on the fate of fall sports championships other than FBS football, which has a championship outside the NCAA structure. However, the board also could delay action until later in August.

In recent days, Power 5 conference officials began seeking feedback from their members about the feasibility of staging their own championships during the fall, sources told SI. When asked if such a move away from the NCAA championship structure could be seen as a precedent-setting rift between the national governing body of college sports and the Power 5, one athletic director said, “If I were (NCAA president Mark) Emmert, I’d be really worried about it. He’s got to keep the Power 5 together.”

Chaser.

Multiple sources said part of the motivation for the Power 5 considering hosting its own fall Olympic sports seasons is to justify playing football, the revenue-driving sport for all athletic departments at that level. If all the other sports are canceled but football perseveres on its own, the optics would open up the schools to severe criticism. Thus, playing all fall sports would allow those schools to say that they are not uniquely subjecting football players to any risk.

Sources described the discussions about breakaway championships as preliminary in nature, the first steps in gauging both interest and feasibility. An Atlantic Coast Conference administrator said the concept is “hypothetical” in nature and not mature yet, but “if the NCAA does something, it could shift it from neutral to first gear.”

Given the P5 incentive to justify football, the Board of Governors’ decision—and rationale—will be critical. If it decides to cancel fall sports championships for COVID-19 health and safety reasons, it would be difficult for the Power 5 to justify going its own way without a plan that they can definitively protect their athletes. But if the board says that the cost of safely conducting championships is prohibitive, the Power 5 could have an avenue to play all its fall sports—football included.

Puddle of vomit on the floor.

“We’re all trying to think, hey, what can we do for our kids, so they have a season and a chance to compete for a championship,” one Power 5 athletic director said. “And, quite frankly, how can we justify playing football?”

Not necessarily in that order.

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“We’re going to have cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”

I’ve seen enough over the past four months not to be particularly outraged or even surprised by this Washington Post piece about a meeting this week between SEC football players, members of the conference’s medical advisory board and SEC officials, including Commissioner Greg Sankey.

Hell, the conference isn’t even trying to avoid saying the quiet part out loud.

MoMo Sanogo, a linebacker at the University of Mississippi, asked the officials on the call why his school planned to bring thousands of students to campus for fall classes. Sanogo said he has four classes per week, and he fears some of those classmates will go to bars and parties at night, then unknowingly infect football players during class.

The answer Sanogo received shed light on the pressure that university presidents, who rely on college football for prestige and revenue, face to reopen their campuses this fall, even as the pandemic surges. “It’s one of those things where if students don’t come back to campus, then the chances of having a football season are almost zero,” an official who did not identify himself said.

It really does mean more.

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UPDATE:  Lots of words saying nothing.

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Not sticking around

There’s one other shoe of note that dropped yesterday.

Virginia Tech will be playing the 2020 season without one of its best defensive players.

Cornerback Caleb Farley said Wednesday he won’t play in 2020 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and will instead train for the 2021 NFL draft.

“After much consideration with my family, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season and begin preparing for the 2021 NFL draft,” Farley said in a video statement. “I am opting out due to uncertain health conditions and regulations and all of the other opt outs going on in football right now. I tragically lost my mother Robin January 2, 2018 to an illness and I cannot afford to lose another parent or loved one. Though the competitor in me badly wants to play this season, I cannot ignore what’s going on in my heart and I must make the decision that brings me the most peace. Thank you, Virginia Tech — my coaches, teammates and anyone else who has supported me in the past. I wish you all the best. Stay safe, and God bless.”

Farley entered the 2020 college football season widely considered as one of the best corners in the country. He had 12 passes broken up and four interceptions in 10 games as a sophomore in 2019. He missed the final two games of the season because of a back injury and had offseason back surgery.

You probably saw Farley’s name on some preseason All-ACC teams and even some preseason All-American teams. The corner will likely be a high pick in the 2021 NFL draft even with just two years of game film. Farley had 36 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman in 2018.

My bet is that he’s just the first of several high profile players to pull the plug on 2020 college football.  What say you?

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Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple, The NFL Is Your Friend.

Today’s ‘rona roundup

It has a definite scheduling flavor to it.

  • Per David Paschall, Southeastern Conference chancellors and presidents are scheduled to hold a virtual meeting Thursday.
  • Andrea Adelson answers a bunch of questions… sort of, anyway.
  • Stewart Mandel ($$) says college football should embrace the bubble:  “Frankly, the best hope is to get them the heck away from their campuses. And thanks to advancements in virtual learning, they can do so without missing any of their classes. NCAA critics might decry this as proof that athletes aren’t really students, but that ship has sailed. Last year’s Heisman winner, Joe Burrow, took all online courses. And every college student in America took classes remotely last spring. (And many will again this fall.)”
  • Speaking of that virtual meeting tomorrow, here’s a menu of schedule formats for the SEC suits to ponder.
  • An offensive lineman at Arizona has been suspended by the team for a violation of its coronavirus protocols.

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Filed under College Football, Pac-12 Football, SEC Football, The Body Is A Temple

Today’s Reader Poll #2

It’s also a straight yes or no deal.

Screenshot_2020-07-29 Would you attend a football game at Ole Miss this season

As always, comments are welcome.

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Today’s Reader Poll #1

This is a straight yes or no question:  do you believe this is true?

Screenshot_2020-07-29 Paul Finebaum on Twitter -- CFBHeather tells us college commissioners and ADs are going on the advice[...]

Feel free, of course, to elaborate on your vote in the comments.

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“We’ll be following pro sports to see what they do.”

Shot ($$).

Less than a week into the start of its regular season, baseball appears to have been caught flat-footed and it demonstrates the need for college football to have a clear plan about handling an outbreak. For as much as college football has been criticized over the past month for its lack of a national plan, its leaders have focused on flexibility and the ability to adjust on the fly. That sounds great in theory, but as the past two days have shown us, it’s tougher than it sounds to react to a major outbreak in the moment. The potential ripple effects for a sport in-season are very real, and those effects spread quickly.

Clear plans and strict protocols are more important than ever.

Chaser.

The Marlins learned Sunday morning that their starting pitcher for the afternoon and two other players had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to play.

An apparent coronavirus outbreak was underway in the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and the Marlins responded by asking their shortstop to determine if the game against the Phillies would be played.

“He’s kind of an unofficial team captain of our club,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Miguel Rojas. “He’s always texting the group and getting the feelings of the group. So when we’re dealing with situations or things, that’s usually who we’re working through.”

Major League Baseball issued a 113-page operations manual to all club employees before the start of the season. It outlines everything from on-field rules to testing procedures and what happens if a player tests positive. But Sunday afternoon, the status of the game amid a coronavirus outbreak was decided by a group text message among Marlins players.

“We made the decision that we’re going to continue to do this and we’re going to continue to be responsible and just play the game as hard as we can,” Rojas said.

Yeah, that worked well.  Best laid plans, and all.  Makes you wonder which college football coach decides to take a similar bull by the horns, safety protocols be damned.

As hard as some of y’all try to reduce this to a binary choice of live free or cancel living, the people running college football are doing the same thing almost all of us are doing in real life, assessing their tolerance for risk.  Sure, their task is complicated by the PR of insisting college athletes are not employees, but bottom line, they’re simply trying to figure out where the tradeoffs lie ($$).

In a conference call with SEC coaches and athletic directors on the morning of July 9, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey suggested that watching the NFL would provide the most analogous data. Earlier that week, an athletic director suggested all the pro leagues could offer some information that could be useful as college football leaders try to stage a season. “It would be nice if these pro leagues could get started so we could get a better idea about best practices,” the AD said then.

Although the people in charge of college sports would like to play football because not playing could cause a financial catastrophe within the industry, most ADs and coaches seem sensitive to the idea of college football players being the figurative canaries in the coal mine when it comes to full-contact football. They aren’t professionals. They don’t have a union to negotiate on their behalf. So most of the people who run college football would prefer the pros deal with all of this first if possible.

The problem is there isn’t enough data out there to know with any certainty where the reasonable limits are.  So they wait and hope the pros can enlighten them, but even that can only tell them so much because college athletes exist in a different environment from their professional counterparts.  There’s no way to put those kids in a bubble, like the NBA is doing, for example.  And that’s before you even get to the question of rogue behavior by coaches and players.

What’s left is a combination of putting off hard decisions as long as possible and moving the goal posts as time runs out.

“Just look at (Big 12 commissioner Bob) Bowlsby’s quote already,” they said. “First, we said if students aren’t on campuses then we wouldn’t play sports. Now that many schools won’t have students, we have found a way to rationalize that away. Then, we talked about how monitoring the successes and failures of our pro sports peers would be informative for us, but we will rationalize this away, too. It’s already starting.”

They’re going to start a college football season.  The question is what the finish will look like.

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This doesn’t bode well.

Screenshot_2020-07-27 Jeff Passan on Twitter Eight more players and two coaches with the Miami Marlins have tested positive[...]

They’ve cancelled their home opener as a result.

This, from a professional sport with less in-game contact than college football.  And, presumably, better able to restrict player exposure to the public, as well.

It’s hard to see how college football makes it through a season unscathed.

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UPDATE:  Related food for thought…

Screenshot_2020-07-27 Ralph D Russo on Twitter Something I have been thinking about a lot when it comes to a college footba[...]

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UPDATE #2:  Oy.

Screenshot_2020-07-27 Randy Peterson on Twitter Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, contacted by DMRegister after Marlins canc[...]

There have to be at least a thousand better ways to respond to the news than that.  Why are these people so inept at PR?

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