It is a curious time in American major professional sports, as the NBA and NHL get underway to resume their 2019-2020 season, the NFL opens its training camp process amid dozens of positive Covid-19 tests, and the MLB has a major setback with one of its teams essentially being quarantined indefinitely.
With the NFL the last up to actually have to play a game, they are getting mixed messages with regard to the success with which the other major professional sports leagues are managing to conduct business as close to ‘usual’ as they can get it. And in a vacuum, one would assume that football is the most difficult sport through which to prevent the spread of the virus.
Now imagine trying to do it on hundreds of campuses across the country with amateur athletes and athletics departments that are simply not equipped to handle something like this. The NFL has the resources and the consolidation to make a good go at it. What about the fractious NCAA—you know, college football, the thing we watch on Saturdays?
On Tuesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert didn’t sound overly confident, saying that he was “very concerned” about the state of college athletics in 2020 for the Fall semester. He suggested that a delayed and shortened schedule might “make sense”, but that could equally be a precursor to cancellation.
By far the biggest difference between college and professional sports is the prefix. College players are students, amateurs, young adults who are taking classes and whose job is isn’t to be an athlete. They are not paid to risk their health in a pandemic to play a sport for a university.
You will no doubt see many prominent college athletes declare that they will not play, as dozens of NFL players already have, even if they don’t get paid one way or the other. Whether or not a college tries to take that player’s tuition away will be on their conscience.
“We need to clearly see the indicators of viral spread be moving in a much better direction than they are right now”, Emmert said of the prospect of playing games. “We continue to see in various areas spikes both in terms of viral spread, in terms of the percent of tests that are coming back positive, and hospitalizations and tragically even deaths. In those areas where we know we have a lot of competition, a lot of sports going on, we need to see movement in the right direction and right now, it’s starting to plateau in some areas, but it’s not headed in the right direction”.
Needless to say, whatever happens in college football will have repercussions for the NFL in the form of the NFL Draft. Just about everybody you see on Sundays was previously playing on Saturdays. The NCAA is the NFL’s minor league.