College football season crisis: Commissioners meet, players organize
ATHENS — Collegiate players organized a movement to continue to play football this season as rumors of cancellation emanated from Power 5 commissioner meetings held over the weekend
Heisman Trophy favorites Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields led the charge, employing a “WeWantToPlay hashtag, then later Sunday night, via a statement representing players from the power five conferences.
Players, along with coaches and some league commissioners, have stated there is more safety in the campus athletics’ environment than in the student-athletes’ respective hometowns.
Arkansas’ Hunter Yuracheck appeared to be the first active athletic director to support the players’ movement, posting on his Twitter account “On behalf of the @RazorbackFB team (that includes my son) and each of @ArkRazorbacks student-athletes that I represent, serve, support, care for, fight for and love. #WeWantToPlay.”
Monday appears set for a climax of sorts. The SEC, Big 12 and ACC are expected to take a public stance after anonymous Big Ten and Pac-12 decision makers leaked concepts of the season’s end to national media members.
Fans entered the weekend with a nagging thought in their collective minds that there was still potential for the season to be canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those thoughts became more warranted when the Mid-American Conference became the first FBS league to shutdown on Saturday. By the end of the day, whispers had grown to rumblings, the timeline suddenly accelerating.
Yahoo Sports reported Saturday the Big Ten was considering canceling its season, too. A Detroit Free Press report followed, suggesting the Big Ten commissioner “preferred a spring football season” after the Midwest-based league announced it was was delaying the team’s move to padded practices.
All this, amid a foundation shaken by Pac-12 players’ threatening to sit out the season if their 50-percent revenue sharing plan is not met, and politicians at a standstill over COVID-19 liability protection.
It led into an uncertain start to the week, where fans awoke with a considerably different sentiment than they had just three days before, when SEC fans bantered over the completion of schedule opponents.
The league commissioners are meeting on Monday again per CBSsports.com, following up on what was a pre-planned discussion on Sunday.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was not optimistic: “All of us would be less than honest if we wouldn’t acknowledge that the trend lines are troubling and the last two weeks or three weeks have not been positive.”
Many have questioned why a decision to shutdown might come so early.
The SEC and Pac-12 aren’t scheduled to begin play until Sept. 26. The Big Ten’s first game was scheduled for Sept. 3 and the ACC’s Sept. 10.
The Big 12 was originally scheduled to have its first games on Aug. 29, but has since pushed back to Sept. 5.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said from start of this challenging coronavirus-inflicted offseason that he will wait as long as possible to make decisions.
The SEC recently pushed back the start of fall practice to Aug. 17, in light of the later start date to the season.
That extra time would presumably allowing the league more data and input from health officials before any further decisions need be made.
But if the weekend reports citing anonymous sources are accurate, the SEC, Big 12 and ACC might have to consider a football season without the Big Ten and Pac-12 on the landscape.
Last April, when there was talk the state of California might not allow students back on the campus until January, Sankey was asked about the possibility of moving forward without all conferences.
“If there is one small niche that’s inactive, but perhaps the entire Southeastern Conference and others are able to function, that’s one of those hypotheticals we don’t have to answer right now,” Sankey said in an interview with Knoxville radio station WNML
“But you would think there would be a bit of room in that decision making.”
Sankey pointed out the autonomy leagues (Power 5) had during their respective conference tournaments in March, and how that could serve as a precedent.
“If you look back, when we were trying to decide how to approach basketball tournaments, each of those decisions was an independent decision by conference,” Sankey said. “You saw the Ivy League make a decision on a Tuesday, (and) we made a decision to cancel our event based on new information on Thursday morning.
“There’s probably a lesson or an example that in fact we are independent entities,” he said. “There’s a lot of conversation among the autonomy conferences, us, the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac 12, and the preference would be to go down a road together.”
That road came to a split when the Big Ten and Pac-12 rushed ahead with their scheduling models last month.
Then ACC stuck another fork in the road with a mid-week schedule model release that SEC administrators said caught them off guard.
Now, it seems, the SEC, Big 12 and ACC may have to unify once again.
There are certainly more questions than answers at this stage, and several possibilities would seem to remain in play.
Could the season be pushed back deeper into the fall once again?
COVID-19 protocol and testing guidelines designed to protect the student-athletes’ health while minimizing the risk of transmission are in place.
The football student-athletes have been back on their respective campuses since the start of June, two months of voluntary and supervised training behind them.
Major League Baseball, along with the NBA and NHL, are underway, and youth sports also place across the country.
Collegiate sports, it seems, have become the nation’s political football with fall closing in and players fighting back.
— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 10, 2020
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