LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This time should be different. This time, college sports had the opportunity to speak in a unified, determined voice.
But with the Big Ten jumping ahead of the other Power Five conferences by canceling non-conference football games Thursday, this time feels like March.
This time, we’ll finish by asking the same question:
Is anybody in charge?
The NCAA has no interest in playing quarterback.
NCAA statement on membership decisions related to COVID-19: pic.twitter.com/GvmkOJIYjE— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) July 10, 2020
Coaches and administrators talk endlessly about leadership, but four months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, the game plan is unfolding the way it unfolded in March.
League by league. School by school. Drip by drip.
Gloomy forecast by gloomy forecast. Reduced possibility by reduced possibility. Start at the 50-yard line and finish with your shoulder pads pinned against the goal line. A slow but inevitable trip from full schedule with reduced fans to conference-only schedule to delayed schedule to no college football. Hold all tickets.
“I did think the A5 (Power Five leagues) would be more in sync,” one college administrator said. “There’s no reason not to be.
“We’re not competing on decisions like this in a pandemic.”
The leagues should not be competing, but not everybody got that memo.
On Thursday, the Big Ten did the same thing the conference did March 12: broke from the four other Power Five leagues to announce it would not play non-conference football games.
Non-Power Five programs that depend on those games for guarantee checks to float their entire athletic departments will spend their weekends studying Contract Law 101.
Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big 12 and Pac-12 programs that expected to play juicy non-league games, like Ohio State at Oregon or Miami at Michigan State, wondered how they could fill the gaps in their schedules.
Notre Dame critics quickly howled this was the perfect opportunity to stiff arm the Fighting Irish into becoming an All-In member of the ACC or risk watching its football schedule and national TV contract with NBC crumble.
On Twitter, I asked which league would be the last one to move to conference-only play?
Now that the B1G is going football conference games only, the four other Power 5 leagues are expected to follow.Which one will be the final holdout?— rickbozich (@rickbozich) July 10, 2020
The winner, in a landslide, was the SEC.
On and on we go, athletic Darwinism on full display.
There was a flurry of intense speculation that other conferences would quickly follow the Big Ten, especially the Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast.
A source told me that eliminating conference games was one option ACC athletic directors discussed. But the source said there were other paths, even though several people reported on social media that the ACC would adopt the conference only plan.
This is the same awkward decision-making pattern that developed 120 days ago. It does not inspire confidence, trust or unity.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford sat in an auditorium at the Greensboro Coliseum last March and said the league planned to proceed with its men’s basketball tournament. Swofford said the commissioners of the most powerful leagues had talked that morning and agreed to proceed as a group, even though we later learned that at least one ACC program was already committed to pulling out of the tournament.
Less than 30 minutes later the Big Ten canceled its party, fueling the sentiment for other leagues to follow. They did. League by league. Drip by drip.
I don’t understand why a college football decision has to unfold the same way.
In March, the virus was merely starting to dominate our attention. Days before the conference tournaments began, arenas were stuffed with people watching regular season games. Suggestions that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be canceled were met with scoffs. Never happen. They’ll play. They need the money. They’ll play, but they might have to play without fans.
Today we know more, but we don’t know enough. These are complicated, difficult decisions that carry immense medical and financial risk.
There’s more discord than consensus. Disagreement will percolate around every decision.
I doubt any administrator was asked the, “What is your plan for a global pandemic,” during his or her job interview.
With positive test cases increasing nationally and schools like Louisville and Ohio State punching the pause button on voluntary workouts this week, it's apparent college football could disappear the way the NCAA Tournament disappeared.
All roads might lead to that destination. But the Power Five leagues should try to figure it out and proceed together.
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