What a wacky, drama-filled weekend it has been.
When the MAC canceled the fall football season on Saturday, it sent shockwaves throughout the sport. Several in the national media reported that the Big Ten would likely be next followed by the Pac 12, and by the end of next week the entire college football season would be canceled. At issue is not only the pandemic, but also concerns about the Pac 12 group that is effectively trying to unionize. Postponing until spring would ostensibly allow the powers that be some time to digest all of it.
Last week, more than 1,000 Big Ten players signed onto a letter to conference officials, outlining safety protocols that they would like to see in place to safely play a season in the current climate. Unlike the Pac 12 group’s demands of a revenue split among other non-starters, the Big Ten letter was focused solely on player safety and none of the requests were unreasonable. Yet, on Friday and somewhat out of the blue, Ohio State LB Tuf Borland tweeted a statement from Buckeyes players praising their university administration and seemingly throwing some water on the movement.
While it was great to see that Ohio State’s players felt that their coaches and support staff were serving them well and had their best interests at heart, the timing of this letter seemed curious. Players were practicing and conferences were making schedule plans for their altered seasons. ESPN’s Bomani Jones openly questioned the Buckeye players’ motivation, even going so far as to suggest that the university put them up to it and calling the players boot-lickers.
and that last sentence is an important distinction between the big ten and pac-12 groups. when i talked to hunter reynolds, he was clear that his group was working *with* their conference. so why would the ohio st guys feel the need to lick the boot like that?— bomani (@bomani_jones) August 7, 2020
While Bomani’s rhetoric is a shade over the top here, the question was valid. On Saturday, the likely answer came into focus. The Detroit Free Press reported that Big 10 commissioner Kevin Warren is currently favoring a spring football season, something that an Ohio State team with championship aspirations, led by several players who will be headed to the NFL after the season including QB Justin Fields, wants no part of. As Ross Dellenger and Pat Forde reported for SI, word was starting to get around.
But there is an alternate viewpoint regarding the MAC decision: that it saw which direction Big Ten leaders were contemplating going and simply decided to go there first.
“My theory is they know what the Big Ten is going to do,” said one administrator from a Group of 5 conference. “I think the Pac-12 is ready to go as well and everyone else follows suit.”
If other conference administrators had caught wind of the Big Ten’s preference to bag the fall season, surely some of the players within those programs had as well. The Ohio State players saw that some of their peers, particularly those on the west coast, had overplayed their hands and were about to cost everyone a season.
On Saturday night Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence sent a tweet that, should the season be played, will likely be seen as a landmark statement.
I don’t know about y’all, but we want to play.— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 8, 2020
There isn’t a player in the sport who needs the season less than Trevor Lawrence. He could opt out right now and start preparing to hear his name called very early, if not first overall, in the upcoming NFL Draft. His words have to carry some weight.
Multiple Penn State players followed suit, tweeting under the hashtag #IWantToPlay.
Many of the leaders on the Penn State football team took to Twitter Saturday night to let the world know they want to play this fall, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. And they insist they’ll be able to do so safely.
This comes on the heels of reports earlier in the day that new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was set to tell member schools that he preferred to move the 2020 season to the spring of 2021.
Nittany Lions DT P.J. Mustipher had the best summation.
Through the noise and the uncertainty, everyone in this program has worked day in and day out since we arrived back on campus in early June. We will continue preparing under proper guidlines for the upcoming season hopeful that the Big Ten will allow us to play.— Pj Mustipher (@KingPJ55) August 9, 2020
These players are openly begging the men in suits not to take their season away.
As Dellenger notes, this sentiment isn’t just for the guys who will be using the 2020 season to audition for NFL scouts.
This is a point that is overshadowed by gloomy headlines: a vast majority of college football players - especially those with no NFL future, which is a lot - want to play football.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 8, 2020
You hear it from coaches, parents and players themselves: They. Want. To. Play. https://t.co/wVWmbN2o69
Though a few have already opted out for safety concerns and more may yet, the players who are currently practicing overwhelmingly want to play and the athletic departments seem to be serious about following protocols. As Matt Hayes notes, the fact that most Power Five schools still seem to be pushing toward a fall season doesn’t sit well with the Group of Five schools who feel left out in the cold.
It’s getting chippy in my texts between P5 ADs and G5 ADs.— Matt Hayes (@MattHayesCFB) August 8, 2020
That’s all I have to say about that.
P5 AD on MAC announcement: “It’s easy to say ‘no season’ when you have no season anyway.”— Matt Hayes (@MattHayesCFB) August 8, 2020
I told you it’s getting chippy.
P5 administrators feel like they’re "under attack" for trying to find a way to play — a season they say “99 percent” of players want to play.
Look, G5 peeps, we’ve tried to tell you to form your own division and playoff. You will always be relegated to the kids’ table where the P5 schools are concerned.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. It seems quite clear that the only voices who should matter in the decision to play games in the current climate, those belonging to the players, are near consensus in not only being comfortable playing in the fall but very much preferring to do so. For some, this season will serve as an audition for a future job in the NFL. For most it won’t, and for many of those players, the opportunity to play big time college football has been the dream they have worked for since they were children. Whether the people in charge allow it to happen remains to be seen.
Hope for the best.