Maybe college football will be played this fall. Maybe it won’t. Here, a Texas fan flashes the “Hook ’Em Horns” sign during the 2018 Texas-USC game in Sept. 2018. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: College football is sorely lacking in clarity, uniformity

Who's in and who's out? These days you need a scoreboard to figure out just who wants to play college football this fall

Posted August 10th, 2020

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As of the time you’re reading this, we still don’t have college football, or any assurances of college football, and we might not until next February or March.

But it’s very clear we need a scoreboard. As well as logic and restraint and wisdom.

Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and the only certainty involving college football is uncertainty. We can be certain of that, especially after a manic Monday when reports that the Big Ten presidents have voted to cancel their fall season and the PAC-12 will follow suit while other sources say no such decision was made.

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There’s absolutely zero clarity.

In light of all the consternation and clashing noise, many college players have now taken to social media to push a “We Want to Play” movement to make their voices heard. Players like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. They can’t be dismissed, can they, in light of player revolts and demands in the PAC-12 and the current national landscape?

And it’s difficult to know who wants football and who does not. Where’s that scoreboard? Who’s in, and who’s out? Depends on when you ask because those firmly entrenched in their position may change their minds before the end of this sentence I’m typing.

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is advocating playing football this fall. “People need to understand the carnage and aftermath of what college athletics look like if we don’t play,” he said. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

Now let’s get it straight. All parties want football, all of them. They really do. But at what risk?

What’s the damage to players’ health and well-being if they play? What’s their risk if they don’t, not protected by diligent schools’ protocol? What’s the economic meltdown that will result if no one plays? How many coaching jobs of non-football sports will be lost? How many sports will be slashed?

And let’s not pretend the Big Ten and the MAC are the only conferences that care about their athletes. That’s nonsense and self-serving. Now that the Mountain West and WAC have dumped their seasons, are they ahead of the curve?

But the public narrative has been one where the Big Ten, with new commissioner Kevin Warren, who has been on the job for 14 months, has led the way, been the first to address the likelihood of not playing and been the most pro-active. That’s the clear perception, right or wrong. But this isn’t and never has been a race.

Like several of his Power Five counterparts, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey is preaching patience over the question of whether football should be played this fall. “Be patient,” he tweeted. “Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.” (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey tweeted Monday the best advice he’s received during this ordeal.

“Be patient,” Sankey tweeted. “Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.”

Makes sense to me. Information is a good thing.

There’s nothing wrong with practicing some restraint, watching all the signs and making decisions when they are called for. What’s the problem with waiting until Sept. 1 and canceling it then, if at all?

As Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told me Sunday night, “There’s never been a drop-dead date.”

And I’m not sure why the Big Ten operates like there’s a deadline this week when games may not begin for about six more weeks. Is there real harm in waiting another month?

“We fully understand the headwinds and the true difficulty of all the issues we face,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told me Monday. “This is not indecisiveness, procrastination or kicking the can down the road. Just a voice of reason. Whatever will be will be, but we don’t have to make the decision today.”

Bowlsby has also preached patience. Nothing wrong with that stance.

“We’ve always felt a sense of urgency,” Bowlsby said. “The last 30 days have not been a positive trend. It could have gone better. There’s never been a drop-dead date. It’s always been situational, but the virus decides what we do.”

The virus, of course, remains undefeated.

So who stands where in the second week of August, precious weeks away from what was supposed to be the start of the 2020 season?

Nebraska wants football, but the mother ship Big Ten apparently does not.

Michigan wants football, but again, hello league office.

Same for Ohio State. And maybe Penn State.

Texas wants football.

Oklahoma presumably wants football.

The SEC always wants football. And more football. And more football after that. It was hard enough for that league to give up its Confederate flags and Dixie. They’ll cling to football until their cold hands are pried off the pigskin.

President Trump wants football. Assuming, we guess, that all players stand for the national anthem. Politicians getting involved. I assume no one’s surprised by that development.

Mostly what we have is uncertainty, misinformation and, yes, total chaos.

But we’ve become accustomed to it.

Some are downright adamant.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost got up on his soapbox and said, “People need to understand the carnage and aftermath of what college athletics look like if we don’t play.”

He went on.

“I feel 100 percent certain that the safest place for our players in regards to the coronavirus is right here where there is structure, testing, medical supervision.”

Frost is right, but surely he knows his Cornhuskers won’t be 100% safe once they start blocking, tackling and breathing on one another and opposing players.

Frost even mentioned looking for “other options,” if the Big Ten shuts down its league for the fall. Told that some Big Ten or SEC schools might push to play games with the Big 12, Bowlsby texted late Monday “truly astonishing.”

What isn’t these days. Meanwhile, the debate rages on.

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