Friday, August 28, 2020

Andy Young: College football: To play or not to play?

By Andy Young


I’m fascinated by the subject of subliminal messaging. In fact, I’m going to try utilizing it in an essay sometime soon. But that’s for another day. Now let’s get to today’s topic: sports and the ongoing pandemic.

Last month University of Maine president Joan Ferrini-Mundy announced that after consulting with the Colonial Athletic Association, the football conference to which the Black Bears belong, the university had made “…the difficult but necessary decision to postpone participation in the fall 2020 sports season.” That means no football, field hockey, soccer or cross-country in Orono this fall.

While the athletes involved, many of whom have spent a significant portion of their young lives preparing to compete in their chosen sport at the collegiate level, are no doubt disappointed, most understand the need for caution.

UMaine is not alone regarding its decision to postpone athletics this fall. The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which includes Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby Colleges, had reached a similar conclusion a week earlier, one that foreshadowed similar resolutions from nearly every Division III (small college) athletic conference in the country. In the weeks that followed, still more universities and athletic conferences made identical choices, opting to prioritize the health of student-athletes, coaches and athletic support staff ahead of any competitive and/or economic concerns.

The wave of postponements or cancellations of fall sports is unfortunate but justifiable, given the unprecedented circumstances that necessitated them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through Aug. 23 the coronavirus had infected over 5.6 million people in the United States, and 175,651 American lives have been lost in the ongoing pandemic.

There are, however, additional considerations involved with cancelling one particular fall sport. For many schools, college football is a ca$h cow that allows them to fund every other intercollegiate athletic team they field. A football-less autumn means taking a major economic hit for many university athletic departments, yet many of them have, after careful analysis, opted to take that step.

On Aug. 5, the University of Connecticut became the first Division I (major college) institution to cancel its 2020 football season. Less than a week later the Mountain West Conference and the Mid-American Conference, two smaller Division I leagues, did likewise, as did several independent Division I schools. Days later two of the five largest collegiate athletic conferences in the country, the Big Ten and the Pac 12, announced they too would forego football this fall.

But not every school is prioritizing the health of their athletic personnel.

The member schools of the $outheastern, Atlantic Coast, and Big 12 Conferences are, at this writing, still planning on fielding college football teams this fall, and on playing full schedules.

The powers that be at these institutes of higher learning, which are located primarily in the south and southeast, have access to the same data the rest of the country does. Suggesting these athletic factories, which, unlike National Football League teams, don’t have to pay their hired gladiators, are motivated by lust for profits would be unseemly. But football involves heavy breathing in close quarters, with body contact and violent collisions on every play. Would any responsible educator risk the health and well-being of some young athletes merely to generate million$ of dollar$ in profit$ for collegiate athletic departments and television network$?

Yet after carefully assessing many factors, the lords of the $EC, ACC, and Big 12 Conferences decided to go ahead with intercollegiate football this fall.

Gee, I wonder which factor$ tho$e people con$idered? Which one$ mattered mo$t? And what po$$e$$ed them to make the deci$ion they ultimately did? <


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