Coronavirus vs. College Football: The Fight of The Year

The battle between college football and the coronavirus has heated up in the recent week with more programs experiencing outbreaks. With numbers rising across the country and no solution in sight, the season is in jeopardy.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges across the country are still grappling with how to conduct their football seasons while minimizing outbreaks and keeping their athletes healthy. Prior to last weekend, most of the college football schedule had been played with few canceled games here and there. Most notably, the Florida Gators and the Wisconsin Badgers have both missed multiple games due to outbreaks within the team. The Wisconsin outbreak came directly after their first game (The Big Ten Conference, of which University of Wisconsin is a member, started their football season late due to coronavirus concerns).

Though the virus still loomed over the heads of administrators and university staff, it never really had a substantial effect on the ability of conferences to play out their seasons. Then, 15 games in the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football’s top division, were canceled or postponed. The number of canceled games in November is already higher than that of the previous two months. The South Eastern Conference also had four of seven contests canceled this weekend.

It doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon either. Throughout the country, numbers are continuing to climb. The U.S. continues to hit grim milestones as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths rises. Just this week, the U.S. set a single day record for the highest number of reported cases at over 187,000. The country also surpassed 250,000 deaths from the virus this past week. Furthermore, the positivity rate of college students was about 12 percent as of the first week of November, which is roughly double the national average. According to NBC News, college campuses are also defying the recommendations of the CDC and local health departments by attending parties. Forty-eight percent of college students have attended large gatherings despite social distancing guidelines, and with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, these numbers aren’t going to decrease anytime soon. Longtime Sportscaster Rob Carlin put it best, “It’s been proven that you can try to be as safe as you can and still get Covid...It’s an airborne disease...Unfortunately, all it takes is one kid stepping out one time and it can drastically affect a whole operation.”

At the end of the day, to put these young athletes at risk is selfish and irresponsible on the parts of the NCAA and administrators. These students are not professional athletes and less than two percent of all student athletes will ever become one. Putting kids’ lives at risk in order to make a few bucks showcases the character of those in charge. Even though many players advocated to play out the season, the decision has to be made by professionals in the business, not players who are seeking the glory of championships or the opportunity to increase their draft stock. To be fair, many college programs need the profit from football to help keep their athletic programs afloat. Though bigger schools have the academic funds to sustain many of their programs, smaller schools rely on the money from “revenue sports” such as football and basketball. However, the expenses of starting up a football season, conducting coronavirus testing, and maintaining COVID-19 guidelines will end up hurting these athletic programs more. The health of their student athletes are also at risk as the number of outbreaks increases.

On the other hand, fans value the excitement and joy that sports bring. Rob Carlin, a fan himself, recognizes that “sports is important to a lot of people. The players, the staff & the schools. But, maybe more importantly, to the fans of these schools. These times are so incredibly difficult on everyone. Families can’t see one another on the holidays. Every norm has been shaken to its core. We need our outlets.” As TV ratings have shown, college football is important to the country as a whole. However, The balance of maintaining the sport and the health of the student athlete need to be more equally weighed.

Miraculously, due in part to the discipline of players and daily testing, the college football season has been able to get through about nine weeks. But with more than a quarter of games canceled last weekend, it might be time for colleges to come together to create change. In order for the season to continue, health must be the number one priority in order to keep athletes safe and in order to crown a true champion. But, thus far, it seems as if COVID-19 has taken a backseat to football-related operations. In order for the latter to continue, health must move into the driver’s seat.