Denial Isn’t Working Out for College Football
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Even before Swinney made those comments, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley—a Republican who once served as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, and a potential 2024 presidential candidate—was already mocking the Seminoles on Twitter. “Florida State, whether you lose today or a few days from now won’t matter,” Haley wrote. “Get it over with already. Stop stalling.”
Immature sniping aside, college football is in the midst of a coronavirus crisis, and the sport’s prevailing attitude seems to be the shrug emoji.
For the third straight week, the number of games postponed or canceled this past weekend was in the double digits. The pandemic has compromised even some games that were played as scheduled. On Friday night, 20 of Minnesota’s players were unavailable to play against Purdue. Exactly how many of those players were out due to the coronavirus is unclear, but the university did report that staff members and players had tested positive for the virus. Since college football teams aren’t required to provide information as to why players miss games, the secrecy allows colleges and universities to hide just how pervasive the problem really is. On Saturday, when Mississippi State played against 11th-ranked Georgia with fewer than the minimum 53 scholarship players, the game arguably marked an improvement over the week before, when Mississippi State didn’t play at all because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Kentucky was short 10 players Saturday in a game against No. 1 Alabama. Among those missing were the Wildcats’ leading rusher, leading tackler, and starting punter.
As the United States sets new records for coronavirus infections day after day, college football might not be able to finish its season. More than 100 games have been called off so far this season, and several of this weekend’s games will be disrupted. Houston won’t play Tulsa this weekend, which marks the second straight week the Cougars have been unable to play because of coronavirus issues and the sixth time this season a game of theirs has been either canceled or moved. The Apple Cup—one of college football’s best rivalries—between Washington and Washington State was canceled because Washington State doesn’t have enough players available to face the University of Washington. And Minnesota was forced to cancel Saturday’s game against Wisconsin after nine players and six staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
Before the season began, those who championed the return of college football argued that having players return to their team was a safer option than having them sit at home. Back in August, the Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN, “I want [our team] to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves. I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home.” Saban maintained that his team’s test-positivity rate—an indicator of whether the virus is spreading undetected within a community—was lower than that of society at large. “We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.” Since then, Saban himself has twice tested positive for the coronavirus. The first time was likely a false alarm, but yesterday Alabama announced that he is showing mild symptoms and will isolate at home.