I was born at night — 12:08 a.m., on a balmy August 7th evening in Stoneville, North Carolina while my mother was reading The Exorcist, a novel so terrifying that to this day she maintains it hastened my early arrival. It’s a depressing little town in Rockingham County, just down NC770 from Mt. Airy — the town that was the model for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry — and nestled right on the border of Virginia. How close to Virginia? We spent plenty of weekends visiting family in Martinsville, catching the amateur dirt track races, the even more amateur regional wrestling at the city park, and visiting the historical Martinsville Speedway, the shortest (and one of the first paved) NASCAR tracks.
It is a part of the world so dark that when you sit on top of the those deathly-quiet little mountains rolling out from Deeper Appalachia to the West, and look into the Milk Way and its billions of friendly winking stars, you can truly believe — if only for a moment — that if you close your eyes and surrender, you can fall into the sky to be swallowed into its vastness like the arms of a lover.
So, yes, I was born at night.
But I sure as shit wasn’t born last night.
With that understanding in hand, it is time to ask an earnest question of Big 10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren, and his enablers and handlers: Are you a liar? Or are you merely a fool?
There is not going to be Spring Football in the Big 10. There was never going to be Spring Football in the Big 10 (and, I suppose if we must consider them, their junior varsity lackeys in the PAC 12).
The logistical arguments against it are many, and even defenders of a spring schedule concede that they are all correct:
- The weather will be terrible when the calendar hits 2021. There is not a single Big 10 venue that plays in a domed environment. Have you ever been to Minneapolis in February? What about Wisconsin in January? Have you fought through the literal feet of snow that drops on Iowa and Nebraska in March? Do you know what -60 windchill feels like? Did you know that “a good day” is one where it is “just zero” with calm winds — or you only get a little wintry mix. I spent a decade in it — and I assure you that the only way to make it is to drink until you are an honorary Irishman and wait, as entire states are plowed free and dug out. Unless the solution involves isolating everyone in a bubble with weekly round robins at Lucas Oil Field, the weather and travel in such inclement conditions makes this an instant non-starter. And, if that’s even a solution, it begs the question why even wait till Spring.
- The situation is necessary fluid. We don’t know that the situation is going to be any better in four months than it will be now. Indeed, the constantly-evolving hot spots, the science of transmission, and other facts that we have access to now, make our knowledge of just 60 or 90 days ago obsolete. Adding uncertainty to the mix, even assuming a magical world where all manufacturers have a vaccine ready on time, is that there are several bottlenecks in the supply chain we are discovering. Among them is a global sand shortage, a necessary component for glass vials. (If you want to know why we’re out of sand, you can again thank China for this one, mainly. Our sand supply is being devastated by climate change-fueled riverbed erosion. But the CCP’s workfare building projects, erecting ghost cities just to give 1.6 billion people something to do, has depleted the available supply. Thanks again, guys!) We could soon be in the very Kafka-esque situation of watching thousands of us die as, just down the road, the local Astra Zeneca lab has millions of doses unable to reach us.
- Not playing will not keep players from contracting COVID-19. And there just is absolutely no decent response to this. It won’t. What we should be concerned about are the spectators in the stands, the tens of thousands who don’t or won’t get tested, who may be lying about symptoms, upon whom it will be difficult to enforce social distancing or masking inside a stadium.The number one way to contract COVID-19 is exposure to droplets coming out of the mouth of someone with the virus. That’s why bars, churches, mixers and concerts have been such potent vectors. And, one presumes, having 15,000 people screaming on top of one another and spraying an entire bowl full of “run the dang ball” sounds like a great place to go if you’re a virus.
- Players will opt. Yes, yes they will. Many have. Many more will. And this is important for reasons we shall address later.
- It conflicts with the NFL. “Maybe the NFL can change it or work with the NCAA” is not a solution. The NFL has said it “has no interest in moving its schedule” to coordinate with a hypothetical spring football season. Again, more players opt out. I won’t even address the (correct) notion that Ohio State without Justin Fields, et al is not what the advertisers were paying for. And the caliber of play will most assuredly suffer — and that’s in two conferences where there are very few elite teams, which hoard most of the talent.
- You cannot play two seasons in one calendar year. And this is the one that where I question the integrity of anyone who advocates it, the honesty of anyone who seriously proposes it, and the basic humanity of anyone who would force it on students.
Bill Connelly, in particular, posed these two little odious bits of counterargument:
Two responses to this:
Playing in the spring could absolutely affect the 2021 fall schedule. (This assumes that things have returned to normal by the fall, which is not guaranteed.) You might have to delay the start of the season by a certain number of weeks. Again, any solution to a wicked problem is a one-off and will have a unique set of effects.
As strange as this sounds, even with a spring season, players will end up taking fewer hits over the course of a year or so (in this case, March 2020 through April 2021) than ever before. Under normal circumstances, they would have had a full set of 2020 spring practices, a 12-to-15-game season in the fall and another 15-practice spring session in 2021. Granted, they’ll be taking more hits in the spring of 2021, but in terms of short-term vs. long-term effects, there’s nothing guaranteeing that the traditional structure would be any safer. (There’s nothing guaranteeing that it’s less safe, either. All of this is new territory.)
Read that again, and make sure that your eyes did not deceive you.
It is the statement of a shill — there assuredly will not be fewer hits over the course of a year by moving another entire football season to the spring of 2021.
There will be far, far more.
Assume there is a spring conditioning and practice session before we then jump to a two-month schedule where you have a preseason camp to a truncated 8- or 9-game miniseason. But that’s not a normal spring camp. In the Spring, teams are limited to 15 total sessions over 34 days. No more than 12 can involve contact, and no more than 8 can be full-on tackling.
That assuredly will not be the case in a preseason camp. Rather, it would reflect the season schedule — one that was changed from four weeks to six full weeks, 20-hours a week. This was to add the spring implementation schedule to the Fall Camp schedule. Indeed, this will add 50% more practice time, with no limitations on contact beyond the acclimation period. The Spring at least limits contact; the season camp schedule has few such rules.
Then we get to the actual heart of the schedule. And this is where that conflict with the NFL and all of those player opt-outs become particularly relevant. After a camp that is 50% longer than usual, players are asked to jump into a schedule with potentially depleted rosters. A situation that involves the loss of depth, that affects meaningful rotation, that invites fatigue. And fatigue is the number one reason for injuries in football. A player loses energy, they get tired, they do not pay attention to their form or are less mindful of their safety. The cavalcade of injuries follows. We’ve seen this play out time and again over the last decade as snaps have increased, as pace of play has become quicker, as games have become longer, as seasons have stretched out to almost a full NFL season.
And it doesn’t get better from there. No, instead, after a two-month season, with just about a 60-day break, players then jump into their Summer conditioning program. From Summer conditioning, they move to the Fall 2021 camp — one that may or may not be another six-week ordeal, depending on the national situation. And then they are expected to play another full schedule. Their reward? Postseason practices that can be up to 20 hours per week.
But it does not even end there. After a minimum of ten weeks of contact practice, and after 20—25 games, and after Spring and Fall and Postseason full-contact practices, the players get about 60 days before they immediately turn around and jump into the 2022 schedule...and back to Spring camp, with its 12 contact practices.
And all of this is expected to be done in 12-13 months.
(This is where we remind you that potential cardiovascular implications of playing a game post-exposure to virus is what the Big 10 cited as their reason for jumping ship. Because, yes, all that practice and all that conditioning, won’t at all exert a toll on your heart.)
Yet somehow, amid all this unpaid footballing, players are still expected to make their classes, do their homework, attend labs, study for tests, turn in large projects, write papers, eat a meal, condition, practice, rehab aches and strains, apply to grad school or take admissions tests, get a few hours sleep, maybe even have a girlfriend. And that’s if things go to plan. Because, god forbid, real life intrudes in this compact window — they get the flu, there are problems at home, they lose a family member, they are having their own difficulties that require nursing.
So, show me the diminished contact. Show me the fewer numbers of hits. Show me how this is at all a safer option, much less a saner one. Tell me how this is better for student-athletes. Bring me the receipts — how is this about the emotional and physical well-being of your players?
You can not. And you cannot because it is indefensible...Almost as indefensible is that actually expect us to believe any of this.
The notion that this sort of workload can be dumped on an unpaid student-athlete is as absurd and abortive as it is dishonest. If the goal was to prove to Congress that you’re really deserving of amateur status, then you failed. If the goal was to quell player uprisings and loss of talent by delaying the inevitable decision that you’re cancelling the season, then you doubly failed.
Thus, either the Big 10 and PAC 12 are rudderless ships; ones helmed by madmen and fools utterly lacking in empathy and common sense. Or they are dinghies lost on the high seas of circumstance; ones captained by first-class liars too proud to admit they made a mistake and too cowardly to come clean.
So, fools or liars?
Whatever the case, don’t expect me to ingest so much as a dollop of this bullshit.