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Pulse on college football opening up: No students on campus, no ball

The head of the NCAA and leaders of universities and conferences are at a consensus that it will be almost impossible to play football if students are not in classes on campus

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Lavell Edwards Stadium on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo

Lavell Edwards Stadium on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo is pictured on Wednesday March 11, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Tick, tick, tick.

The drama of whether or not there will be a college football season this fall continues deep in the woods of Zoom conferences as the clock ticks down on a mid-June deadline where somebody has to pull the trigger if games are to start on time.

One barometer I’m told is to look and see what the NFL does.

The NFL announced its schedule of games this past week, including an attractive matchup at the new stadium in Las Vegas between the Raiders and New Orleans Saints.

Thing is, nobody’s pulled the trigger on a date for NFL players to report for camp, locker rooms, scrimmages or workouts. Once that happens, there could be movement in the college game just like what happened when the NBA shut things down for COVID-19 because Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive in Oklahoma City. The dominoes fell with college conferences canceling tournaments, then the NCAA pulled the rug out from under the Big Dance.

The NFL could be college football’s trigger point, or it could prove a false start for universities whose leadership is increasingly concerned that if classrooms are not opened and students are not on campus, then football should not be played.

And that makes sense.

Mark Emmert, the head honcho directing the NCAA, has talked to all the conference commissioners and many university presidents the past few weeks. He told ESPN there is a consensus — no students on campus, no games.

“This doesn’t mean the (the schoo) has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you have to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. … If a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports, it’s really that simple,” said Emmert.

The Big East says all league presidents are in agreement: If no students are on campus, there will be no football games. And right now, they do not see their campuses opening at the start of fall, but things could change.

On the other hand, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Tennessee and Auburn have said they expect their schools to open and students to be in classrooms with social distancing plans.

There has been no formal announcement of Utah universities, including BYU, opening this fall.

Many have speculated that if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not attending church in ward buildings this fall, there is little chance BYU will open to students, let alone play football or have fans in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

There’s a third party to all of this, and that is each individual state and county. There are different challenges with COVID-19 that might be present in one state and not in another, and even counties inside states have considerably different numbers of people infected and deaths.

One state could clear a university to open up, while a neighboring state could not.

And it gets even more confusing when you look at a league like the Pac-12, located in what many would say is a blue region — a majority of Democratic voters. There appears to be a split in the country right now between blue and red (Republican) states.

Blue state governors (Virginia, Michigan, California) generally tend to reject the idea of opening up — supposedly because of health concerns — but dire, scared ultra caution plays well in booting out an eager-to-open-things-up President Donald Trump. The opposite, some say, is true of red or purple states like Utah and Florida. 

Crazy, huh?

I could see a situation where Major League Baseball is played in Phoenix with Arizona and Arizona State opening up campus life, while Pac-12 schools in California, where they’ve been chasing out beachgoers, restrict universities from campus classes, and thus football.

One thing we can probably count on is our new normal will be nothing like last summer, fall or winter.  

Our lives have changed.

Social distancing, avoiding handshakes, wearing masks, scrubbing hands, staying 6 feet or more apart, eating out in places with empty tables and stadiums with just 30 percent mandated capacity could be a new way of life.