Douglas Andrews / August 12, 2020

Let’s Play College Football

Young men should be allowed to weigh the risks and play the game they love.

Last month, in a piece titled “The Coming College-Sports Apocalypse,” National Review’s Jim Geraghty warned that some brutal COVID-induced economic realities were about to visit the economic goldmine of big-time college sports.

“The cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament this March,” he wrote, “cost schools a projected $375 million in revenue. The outlook for college football this autumn is foggy. Some conferences have already announced a limited schedule that dispenses with non-conference games to reduce the amount of travel. If all non-conference games are canceled, schools will lose about $160 million.”

Non-conference games account for just a fraction of a program’s football revenue, but what if a team or a conference canceled its entire football season? Well, we’re about to find out, because the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences did just that late yesterday afternoon.

Technically, the conferences “postponed” their fall football plans, stating that they’d now explore the possibility of playing in the spring. But that idea rightly has plenty of skeptics and plenty of obstacles. “Coaches are concerned,” reports ESPN, “about how a spring season will fit into a fairly rigid schedule, how it would impact roster size and eligibility, and whether there would be increased health risks with playing two seasons in one calendar year.” Then there are implications for bowl games and playoffs.

College football’s fall season isn’t kaput across the board, however. The Big Ten and Pac-12 brass may have chickened out, but the NCAA’s three other “Power 5” conferences — the Big 12, the ACC, and the SEC — are still intent on lacing ‘em up this fall. And the two quitting conferences did so against the vehement objections of their players and coaches.

Some of the nation’s best players began organizing Sunday night — from a small group chat, to a FaceTime call, to a star-studded Zoom meeting with the likes of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State QB Justin Fields, Alabama running back Najee Harris, and others.

“I love our players & believe it is my responsibility to help them chase their dreams, both collectively & individually,” tweeted Penn State head coach James Franklin. “I am willing to fight WITH them & for our program!”

“Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT,” tweeted Ohio State Buckeyes coach Ryan Day.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh weighed in with a detailed statement that began, “I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks. … I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled.” He then laid out the facts (not feelings) that support his position.

One of Harbaugh’s best players, defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, was foursquare behind his coach: “Coach Harbaugh and the staff have implemented the best possible protocols in order for us to stay healthy,” he insisted. “The results support my claim. The athletes deserve a voice in this life-changing decision regarding the season.”

Perhaps the most compelling endorsement of all, though, came from Hutchinson’s father, Chris, a former All American at Michigan who’s now an emergency room doctor. “I support Aidan,” he said, “not only as his father but as an ER doc who has lived through some of the worst Covid in the country. I support them playing as the protocols at the University of Michigan have proven to work. I feel my son is in the safest program and conference in the country.”

Sadly, these pleas and plenty of others fell on deaf ears.

Democrats, of course, are thrilled that the season is canceled, because a return to the gridiron is a sure sign that life is returning to normal. And Democrats don’t want that to happen — at least not until after Election Day. Between now and then, they’re committed to making us all as miserable as possible.

In a very real sense, then, the debate over college football has become a debate about Liberty itself — a debate about the rights of free men in an ostensibly free country. And it’s clear which side the players and coaches are on, and which side the Pac-12 and Big Ten bosses are on.

Football, NR’s Geraghty wrote, can’t be played without COVID risk. “Players not only come within six feet of one another, they line up inches apart, breathing heavily, and then crash into each other, play after play after play. Coaches yell, the quarterback audibles, players stand close together on the sidelines.”

But football, being a collision sport, has always been fraught with risk. Its players are well aware of these risks, though, and for more than a century, boys and young men have donned the gear and gotten after each other with abandon. They do it because they love this quintessentially American sport — and because the rest of us love it, too.

Let’s not be sissies about this. That’s for those on the Left. Kudos to the Big 12, the ACC, and the SEC for listening to the players and the coaches, and for honoring their love for the game and their commitment to it.

Let’s play some football this fall.

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