If I’ve learned anything, it’s that making a plan in the year 2020 is a lot like trying to guess what my fiancée wants for dinner — it usually changes and most of the time leads to an apology.
And so, in the week since the Big 12 Conference — and all conferences outside the Big Ten, Pac 12, Mountain West and Mid-American — announced their intentions to move forward with plans to play football this fall, I’ve been waiting for the other cleat to drop.
Days like Monday reminded me why.
I’ve fielded more questions than Major Leaguers have ground balls (yet) since last spring about my gut feeling about the possibility of football this year. It’s amazing how often my mind, and answer, has changed, even from one day to the next.
Sunday, I felt pretty confident. Yet as I woke up on Tuesday, all of the sunny optimism had been darkened by the storm clouds of uncertainty yet again.
News out of the University of North Carolina on Monday was disheartening to say the least. A total of 177 positive cases of COVID-19 out of 954 tests last week. Clusters in dorm rooms. All classes moved online. Just one week in.
And the bad news wasn’t limited to Chapel Hill. Tulsa announced it would suspend practices indefinitely after eight players tested positive for the virus with eight more in quarantine after coming in contact with the positive cases. It marked just the latest practice suspension with several other programs — including Oklahoma last week — having been forced to do the same already.
It was obvious that these weeks would be crucial for the continuation of football plans with students returning to college campuses around the country. Positive cases, small outbreaks and setbacks were to be expected.
What is the threshold for putting college football in real jeopardy?
I don’t know. If you say you do, I’ll say “I told you so” in a few days. However, I think we can all agree that it’s alarming at the very least.
In our state, move-in week is now happening at both Marshall and WVU. Currently, there are zero COVID cases within the Mountaineer and Thundering Herd football programs. And though that’s obviously a positive, those numbers could easily change in the coming days and, if not, WVU and MU’s successes are but blips on the national radar.
There’s no doubt in my mind, knowing a little about the ship that Doc Holliday runs at Marshall, and in being on a couple of Zoom meetings with WVU coach Neal Brown, that both are doing all they can to keep players out of harm’s way. But 100-some football players doing the right things (hopefully) within campuses of several thousand young people who may or may not be is hardly good enough.
And it’s not just about parties. It’s about gas stations, grocery stores, classrooms, dorms, apartment buildings … the list goes on and on.
It wasn’t all that long ago ... let me rephrase ... it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was one of those young college students, set to explode in celebration at some newfound independence and freedom, surrounded by similarly aged young adults ready to do the same. It’s a special time in life and one I’ll never forget.
I can’t imagine how I’d have reacted if I had been asked to socially distance during that time.
Avoid parties and crowded bars. Wear masks. Stay 6 feet apart. These are the decisions we’re asking college students around the country to make. Heck, I struggled badly enough with the food-versus-beer money dilemma.
There are those that say we need football. I respectfully disagree. Even though I and my sports-writing brethren may need it to survive professionally, sports are not a life-sustaining entity.
And so, obviously, we’re not asking these kids to follow health guidelines just so we can have sports. More importantly, we’re asking for their own health and for the health of their loved ones and friends.
Also, let me express my empathy to those young men and women who have watched us grown adults screw up this entire situation like a 5-yard shanked punt out of bounds. It’s not fair. None of this year has been.
But I also remember game days in Morgantown as a college student. There was nothing like it and there never will be. Would I have followed the rules if those Saturdays were on the line? It would have at least been more motivating.
So, I ask you, youth of America, to make a decision and make the right one, if for nothing else than the interest of our pigskin distraction this fall. Lord knows, there’s plenty to be distracted from.
Because if you think this choice is hard, just remember, someday you’ll spend hours watching your spouse struggle with the steak-or-chicken dilemma.