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COOK: Big Ten, Pac-12 did right thing, but hoping for spring football season is naive

RON COOK
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons closes in on Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey after he released a pass during a Big Ten game in 2018. Parsons opted out of the 2020 college football season last week. Tuesday, the Big Ten postponed the fall football season, while leaving open the possibility of a spring 2021 season.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 conference presidents and chancellors did the right thing Tuesday afternoon when they postponed their college football season out of legitimate concerns about COVID-19.

They are naive, however, if they believe they can play their games in the spring.

We’re not going to see Big Ten and Pac-12 football — probably major-college football of any kind —- until fall 2021.

More on that in a bit.

A few takeaways from, arguably, the most stunning day in college football history:

A gutsy decision: I still can’t believe the two conferences didn’t try to forge ahead with a season the way MLB and the NFL are doing, that they actually had the guts to make their decision with so much at stake financially.

If the SEC, ACC and Big 12 follow the Big Ten’s and Pac-12’s lead — I don’t see how they can’t — it will be at a cost of more than $4 billion for the Power 5 schools, according to MarketWatch, a watchdog of all things business. Each of the 65 programs would lose an average of $62 million.

That’s a lot of guts.

Conference leaders deserve praise: Good for the conference leaders who, in the end, did the right thing for the health and safety of the players even though the players are screaming that they want to play.

My heart breaks for those kids. I know their commitment to their sport. I know how much work they put into having a season. But sometimes you have to protect young people from themselves.

There isn’t much social distancing in football, and masks — other than helmet facemasks — aren’t practical.

“The reality is the game is not like sitting in a classroom,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told the Big Ten Network, trying to explain why students will be welcomed back on the campuses this fall despite the obvious health risks and football won’t be allowed. “It’s not like walking across campus. It’s not like wearing masks while you’re in a lab. It’s full contact.”

Too many unknowns: Beyond that, there also is too much unknown about the virus.

The doctors advising the conferences have linked it to potential heart damage, especially in men with a large body mass. Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney and Houston defensive lineman Sedrick Williams are among those who contracted COVID-19 and said they are worried about long-term heart issues. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said his doctors aren’t even sure that heavy exertion doesn’t make the virus worse.

It simply was deemed too dangerous to proceed with a season.

Liability concerns: Having said all of that, I’m hesitant to give the presidents and chancellors too much credit.

They are just as concerned about their liability in the event an athlete gets really sick or dies as they are about that athlete who gets really sick or dies. In other words, they are covering their collective backside.

But, hey, at least they got the decision right.

That liability issue is why the three other major conferences should and probably will shut down their season. Can you imagine what a nightmare it would be if one of their players dies after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said football was too dangerous?

Staring down the coaches: Good for the conference officials having the nerve to stand up and stare down their higher-profile, better-paid coaches, who wanted a season as scheduled, as much for their selfish reasons (their contracts) as their love for their players.

It isn’t often those men don’t get their way. Too many think they can do what they want. This might be the first time someone has told them differently.

Replace Nebraska with Pitt? Is it possible to throw Nebraska out of the Big Ten?

How about its administration and coach Scott Frost saying they’ll try to play anyway if one of the other conferences takes them? So much for one for all and all for one. They’re disgraceful.

Is it possible for the Big Ten to welcome Pitt to take Nebraska’s place? We can dream, right?

Big Ten spring football won't happen: Now, a word about spring football.

It might happen with the smaller conferences, but not with the Power 5 schools. I have a number of reasons:

One, the better players won’t play. We’ve already seen Penn State’s Micah Parsons and Pitt’s Jaylen Twyman opt out of this season so they can get ready for the NFL draft. What top players are going to play in February and March and risk injury so close to the April draft, not to mention lose that valuable preparation time for the NFL combine and their pro days? Few, if any, I’m thinking. Do you really want to watch the players who are left? I don’t.

Two, it is unrealistic to expect major-college players to play two full seasons in one calendar year. The human body can’t take it, even a human body that is in fabulous shape. The sport is just too brutal. That’s why so many NFL players are so against expanding their season to 17 regular season games. And those pros are well-compensated, as opposed to the college kids.

And three, do we really believe the virus will be under control by next spring? When many in this country don’t have the discipline or the will to follow the proper safety protocols? I have my doubts, and they are serious doubts.

See you in the fall, 2021.

It should be a heck of a college season.