OPINION: Playing fall sports would ‘likely make it impossible to have football for decades to come’

JSU football players line up for a drill at their 2020 summer practice on Aug. 10. (Matt Reynolds, JSU)JSU football players line up for a drill at their 2020 summer practice on Aug. 10. (Matt Reynolds, JSU)

Coley Birchfield, Correspondent

2020 has been a year full of cancellations, postponements and rescheduling. Church, education, small businesses and sports have seen drastic changes. 

In the last few days, however, COVID-19 has struck Americans in a different way: college football. Yes, the annual Saturday tradition is likely to be unrealistic until 2021. And I believe that in 10 years the NCAA will not regret their decision to delay or cancel the upcoming football season. The financial consequences, health risks, and the priority to lead students before you train athletes were just a few reasons that the NCAA and their universities made the right decision. 

Let’s first discuss the financials of such a big decision. After all, a football season is not possible without dollars in the universities’ “pockets”. Just take a second to remember the last football game you attended at any level. What did you spend money on during that day? You probably could think of your ticket, parking before the game, food at a concession stand, a souvenir to take home, just to name a few. All of those areas being where universities like JSU would see drastic decrease in the 2020 season. I’ll give you an example from the University of Alabama. If a base ticket price of $75 is calculated the university would lose almost $4 million dollars a game…with the stadium at half capacity. Not only would major conference programs take a financial hit, but also FCS and lower FBS programs. These lowers level teams get payment for travelling to play high-profile schools. For example, in 2014 and 2015 the Gamecocks travelled to play Michigan State and Auburn which brought the university $1.15 million total. A sum of money that (combined with your normal athletic funding) provided scholarship offers, facility renovations, equipment improvements, and staff salaries. In all likelihood, if a school does not have a team that gets ESPN-type exposure the football program would be spending more money then it was bringing in. That means that a season with competition would likely make it impossible to have football for decades to come. 

I could not justify my argument without addressing the source of the mayhem: COVID-19. A disease that has claimed the spring sports season and is now carrying over into the fall. Social distancing is a phrase forever etched in our brains. A health practice that falls under the category “easier said than done”. Walmarts and churches can barely adhere to social distancing standards, and in a sport like football it is highly unlikely. Hundreds of personnel crowded on sidelines, players face to face at the line of scrimmage, and national media packed in a small stadium box. All of those different lifestyles leaving each game to travel back to their respective hometowns or weekly jobs. Is it possible that come November the national uproar of COVID-19 will have quieted; of course. However, there is a reasonable question of “Are the risks worth the chance?”.

 The NCAA’s decision is similar to flipping a coin that may not land on heads or tails. The United States will be in the middle, similar to today. We have healthy football players now but how long does it last? A university’s facilities are operated properly but do you trust other schools? Do universities allow athletes to intermingle with regular students? What are the results of a team having to cancel consecutive days of practice during game week? The NCAA saw that none of those questions had a clear, nationwide answer. Therefore, the smartest choice was taken; to forgo the fall sports championships. What’s the result of that decision? Of course, a 2020 fall without the sport; but every year to come with stadiums guaranteed to be full screaming fans and touchdowns.

I will leave you with one quote from Earl Campbell, a famous NFL running back from the 80’s: “I talk to student-athletes. I try to get them to remember that they’re not just athletes, but student-athletes. You need to get an education, keep your hands clean and try to represent the university.” 

The NCAA has recently been losing sight of that quote. The association allows multi-million dollar television deals and social media to drive the narrative that football players come to school to play on Saturdays, only using class as a way to keep them out of trouble. 

One fact I didn’t know until recently was that FBS football is independent from the NCAA, the reason that the champion doesn’t receive the wooden rectangle trophy, but a shiny gold trophy instead. Monopolizing one sport over all others to not allow an association to limit their economic and social power. Last week the NCAA took a step back and looked over their entire network of universities. The Board of Directors thought to themselves “if we say we lead student-athletes, we have to care for the athlete and the student”. 

Hopefully the leaders in FBS football will do the same. Yes, football is popular but it isn’t a necessity. Education is, a healthy student is, and the trust of all universities is. 

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