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College brain trust struggles with how to stage college football season

The time is ticking on the 2020 college football season as NCAA entities discuss how, when and what angles to take in saving a financial disaster from taking place this fall.

Fans cheer prior to the BYU-Utah game during NCAA football in Provo Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.
Fans cheer prior to the BYU-Utah NCAA football game in Provo Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.
Deseret News archives

The president of the University of Alabama, Stuart Bell, declared there will be college football played this year.

Thing is, his statement made on a local Tuscaloosa TV station this past week offered no concrete details. He called it a plan and said a task force is working on bringing 38,000 students back to campus and having Nick Saban trot out his Crimson Tide to play Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 5.

Stuart’s declaration conflicts directly with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert who is America’s authority on the virus and how to fight it.

The diminutive, glasses-wearing, popular, nonelected official told The New York Times this week he not to expect sports to return this year.

Wonder who is going to win out: Stuart, Fauci or the microscopic COVID-19 bug?

Nobody knows. And it is maddening.

Kyle Whittingham can’t wait to host BYU and extend Utah’s win streak. Kalani Sitake can’t wait to play Utah and try to end it in Game 1 of 2020.

College presidents and athletic directors across the land are wringing their hands about it right now. There are committees, task forces, councils and myriad Zoom conferences bouncing around from Los Angeles to Albany right now. Nobody has an answer on what to do.

One thing everyone agrees on is if there is no college football this fall, higher education and college sports as we know them will take an economic hit so big that sports will be damaged so badly it will take a decade to recover, if ever.

Division I programs will be diminished, scholarships slashed, coaching salaries reduced, staff sizes shrunk. Universities that nurse off college football will suffer major financial harm. Already, some conferences have seen cuts in salaries and the furlough of athletic department employees. A Group of Five conference commissioners has already petitioned the NCAA to waive requirements for attendance, sponsorship of sports programs, and other requirements.

Programs that operate in the red — which are most athletic programs in the country — are looking for life support respirators to survive.

The college sports world as we know it is in a collective panic. Football must somehow be played this fall in one form or another, or financial disaster looms large on the horizon.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is hopeful the football season will kick off on time. But he’s also fearful that once it does, if there is a flareup, it will be shut down.

So far, there are many alternative plans being kicked around:

• Start the season on time.

• Play a shortened season, conference games only.

• Delay the start of the season, hoping for a cure.

• Play this season in spring 2021.

• Play a split season, fall and spring.

• Play this fall without fans, or 25% capacity.

• Play this fall and plan for an interrupted season.

• Don’t play the 2020-2021 academic year.

• Play in some geographic areas, but not others.

Most experts say whatever is decided must be outlined by the first of June so proper planning can take place and adjustments made.

Penn State coach James Franklin asked sports scientists, his strength and conditioning coaches, and trainers how long it would take for a college team to get ready for a season. There were several scenarios proposed, but the consensus was eight weeks — two months. That would put most teams on alert to begin by mid-June.

Arizona State coach Herm Edwards told ESPN.com, “You’re going to need two months to get these guys back going again before you can even consider putting them on a field and asking them to play football. When you rush back, that’s when you get the soft-tissue injuries — hamstrings, Achilles tendons, groins — because you haven’t done anything. Pro players, they have a sense of, ‘I gotta work out, I make my living doing this,’ but if you’re a college kid, and a lot don’t have access to gyms where they can lift, it’s not like he’s in football shape.”

America needs its sports back.

NASCAR is firing up May 17 with seven runs in 10 days at two tracks. The PGA Tour has targeted June 11 to start at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

Will we fire up football?

If you look at the mood at California beaches and protestors in Michigan and other states across the land over restrictions, much of our country is in no mood to stay locked up — no matter what.

We are on the edge of a revolution to overthrow restrictions in favor of personal freedom and individual responsibility over edicts.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said this week America needs sports and he’s anxious for the ACC, which he follows, to have a season.

So, folks, there is a collision course coming about college football, what is prudent, what is right and what falls within the civil right to assemble and the liberty to enjoy life.

It may come down to Stuart versus Fauci.

And then remember, back in March it only took a Utah Jazz player testing positive for the virus in Oklahoma City to shut it all down.

It could happen again once we start the sports engine.