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Lack of uniformity in college sports igniting emotions, mixed messages

The Utes and Aggies can’t play, the Cougars can, yet even on the Provo campus, other fall sport athletes had their seasons yanked away. What gives?

BYU football players participate in fall camp in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. While BYU football is still a go this fall, football players at Utah and Utah State won’t have the same opportunity.
Courtesy Brigham Young University

PROVO — Frustration and emotions continue to burn nearly a week after conferences decided to pull the plug on football and other sports.

It isn’t that folks are not trying to be safe and do the right thing, it’s the buildup to punting on the nation’s athletes and the lack of choice.

University of Utah receivers coach Guy Holliday tweeted out this week, “I know every U of U administrator fought to keep this season alive and I trust the process. I’m struggling with the NCAA. We have rules for everything. In 6 months how could we not come up with uniform testing and a plan to protect our players, coaches and staff? Just asking.”

In the meantime, BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos used the same forum to broadcast his excitement that the Cougars continue to rebuild their schedule after cancellations:

“New games being added! Every day when I see Coach @TomHolmoe he’s on the phone. If he’s not, then it’s ringing shortly. Football is the most violent game on the planet. Advancements in safety have been amazing, but there will always be a risk that most are willing to take! CHOICE”

Holmoe and Mateos are on an island, the lone remaining college football program in the Western United States playing football. If you look at a map, it is BYU in the West and then a spattering of teams in the Midwest and South. That’s it.

Yet, BYU’s defending national champion cross-country team, its nationally ranked women’s soccer, volleyball and golf teams have competition suspended and they mourn with their friends at Utah and Weber State.

You have medical experts in the Power Five conferences, the SEC and ACC, advising to go forward with football, yet medical experts advising the Pac-12 and Big Ten to pull the plug right now.

Confused?

You got it.

My compadre at the Deseret News, Mike Sorensen, opined this past week that the Pac-12 made the right decision to suspend football, choosing medicine over money. And he’s right.

But there’s another side, choice and free agency of those who were given no voice. And that also has merit, freedom over liability fears cloaked in medical fears.

Todd Helms, father of Clemson quarterback Hunter Helms and founder of Palmetto Prep Academy, declared, “150 years of college football and we have played despite the Spanish flu of 1918, stock market crash of 1929, Great Depression, WW1, WW2, Korean War, Vietnam, swine flu and H1N1 viruses! This is politics at its worst and a sad day when politics controls everything!”

And then there’s Jesse Topper, a football coach and state representative in Bedford, Pennsylvania, who blasted his governor, Tom Wolf, for stopping high school football.

“When I hear things like ‘it’s not worth the risk’? First of all, as a coach I’ve had the opportunity to watch this football team at Bedford prepare for this year. We told them ‘you know, if you wear your mask and social distance at meetings, split your time in the weight room, if you follow these protocols, you will have the opportunity to play.’ They’ve done all those things,” Topper says in a video clip shared by Tribune-Review sports writer Chris Harlan.

“To now come back to them and say ‘you’ve done everything right, but you know what? We still don’t have the will to let that happen.’ I think back to those words and it’s not worth the risk.

Continued Topper, “We know most of us up here have either played or been a part of athletics. We understand that there’s an inherent risk to what we do. That’s why there’s an ambulance that sits out by the football fields on Friday night. We know that there’s risk, but always that risk-benefit reward ratio has always been left up to the families to determine ‘is this worth the physical risk’?

“Well, I don’t see any difference in that now. And quite frankly, the governor has himself said when he was out in a protest in the streets of Harrisburg, he said when asked, ‘Did you follow your own protocols?’ he goes, ‘No, I didn’t. Because I felt the cause was worth the risk.’ But we cannot just allow one person in Pennsylvania to discern for everyone which causes are worth the risk and which are not. That decision needs to be left up to parents, and it needs to be left up to families (what is or isn’t) worth the risk. But at the end of the day, if we’re going to leave that decision only up to one person, then we have a problem that’s far greater than COVID-19.”

Pennsylvania high school football is canceled. In Utah, they just started playing.

Former Florida coach and Heisman winner Steve Spurrier told “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Wednesday, “I really feel for the Big Ten guys. I do. ... All these coaches and players have done all they’ve asked and all of a sudden they come in and say, ‘We’re not going to play this year.’ What? We’re not going to play? What do you mean?

“I just believe they all have a right and deserve to go play the game. They want to play and they want to compete against the other guys you know. Most people now, they live let’s say 80 years. And these young men have four years to play college football.”

On Thursday, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that Division I fall sports championships were canceled, yet the College Football Playoff is still underway, albeit with 76 Football Bowl Subdivision programs currently slated to begin their seasons this coming month.

BYU football players are having heated practice sessions in Provo. Just 45 miles up the freeway, Utah players are not. They’re done.

On the Provo campus, pass game coordinator Aaron Roderick said this football camp is the most fun he’s ever had as a college coach.

Across the parking lot where BYU cross-country and soccer coaches have their offices, they’re down as down can be after the WCC canceled fall competition.

How strange is this picture in your mind?