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Scattershooting: Would a bubble work to keep BYU football players safe?

Would a bubble work for BYU? The SEC slicks up its schedule, and Pac-12 television partners have some hurdles to address

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake talks with his team during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

PROVO — Scattershooting the college football scene ... Could BYU find a real protective bubble just a block away? Is the SEC creating a CFP championship pathway? And will Fox and ESPN leave the Pac-12 without TV rights payments for no football in 2020?

The NBA is very successfully operating inside a protective bubble in Orlando, keeping players away from restaurants, the outside party scene and exposure to the virus, and the league is using a tremendous COVID-19 tool, testing with a simple saliva sample.

This could be a game changer for not only college and professional sports but for all of humanity in these trying times. Testing with immediate results? Since it was developed at Yale, why didn’t the NCAA get into this before the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mountain West canceled their football seasons and many pulled the plug on fall sports? Well, because the NBA funded the study. Kudos to the NBA.

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The idea has been floated on social media that BYU could heighten its already strict training and practice protocols by putting the football team in its own trendy bubble, the now-vacant Missionary Training Center, just up the street from LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The MTC has living quarters, cafeterias, meeting rooms, a security system, and can fully house a football team with hundreds of rooms to spare. It would enhance the limitation of outside influences because that is what it was designed for.

Players could do virtual classwork inside numerous rooms and social distance to their hearts’ content — never be close to the rest of the student body.

Trouble is, about a third of BYU’s football team is married and it’s a big ask to separate them from their wives, and in some cases, their babies. Also, the MTC is a dedicated facility to serve the missionary operations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also operates BYU.

Kalani Sitake could even approach Snow College and ask if the dorms, workout areas, fields and meeting rooms were available for a kind of Camp Ephraim. They could break at times for a quick 18 at Palisades State Park Golf Course.

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There is growing sentiment that college football players are far more healthy and safe inside their programs that continue operating than being sent back into the community and campus population as universities reopen this week.

Berry Tramel, the columnist for The Oklahoman who has spent a career covering Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, says it might be better for the colleges to close down and their football teams continue to play because of the virus testing numbers.

“Those trends are not rare. All over America, the virus is relatively squelched when football players are sequestered, regularly tested, and reminded to stay low-key on a campus that is relatively empty,” wrote Tramel.

“But when players are back home or get leave from helicopter coaches, or the general student body returns, the numbers spike.”

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The SEC is padding its league schedule to help Alabama, LSU and Georgia create its best chances to slide into the College Football Playoff by making its “extra games” contests against some of the league’s weakest foes.

This greasing of the skids was examined by ESPN’s Bill Connelly. If the SEC does proceed with its announced schedule, it looks like the top dogs will get the easiest bones to chew.

Wrote Connelly, “I’m just saying that if that was the goal, giving Alabama the conference’s eighth-best (Kentucky) and 12th-best (Missouri) teams per SP+ for its two bonus games, giving LSU its 12th- and 14th-best (Vanderbilt), giving Georgia its 11th- (Mississippi State) and 13th-best (Arkansas) and giving Florida its 13th-best team would be a pretty perfect way to go about it.”

It’s 2020, with no competition from Oregon, USC or Utah on one coast and Ohio State and Penn State on the other side of the country.

Add more grease.

•. •. •

The Pac-12 may not be paid for football rights by ESPN and Fox when the season proceeds without games aired. If other leagues play and are on TV, it seems like common sense that Pac-12 television partners would not be liable to cut checks for those canceled games and season.

The league expects its teams to enact cancellation justification clauses to get out of paying for contracts with games like BYU versus Utah (Sept. 3), Arizona State (Sept. 19) and Stanford (Nov. 28). But ESPN and Fox will struggle to make good on $274 million to the Pac-12 for sports rights fees for 2020-2021. About 80% of that is attached to 45 football games that were to be part of its partnership TV inventory.

According to Jon Wilner of the Mercury News in San Jose, the Pac-12 and its TV partners will have to come to some agreement, perhaps a future consideration in renewal negotiations to make up for the shortfall. In the meantime, providers like Comcast, Dish Network and Cox have to be paid because they’re billing subscribers for promised sports coverage.

Could there be rebates by your TV providers if they don’t produce Pac-12 game coverage? Maybe. It’s already happened for lack of Major League Baseball games.

Writes Wilner, “Comcast, Dish, Cox and other distributors pay ESPN and Fox monthly fees for the programming that airs on their systems. Those fees, in turn, are the foundation for the media rights payments that ESPN and Fox send to the conference.

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And then there is from Penn State’s athletic director Sandy Barbour: He doesn’t remember there being a Big Ten vote to postpone the football season. According to CBS Sports.com columnist Dennis Dodd, Barbour isn’t the only one saying this.