Is College Football Too Big to Fail?

Steven Smith Editorials

To be, or not to be: that is the question […]

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

It’s also the question college football fans are asking about the 2020 season. There may be sea changes coming to athletics as we know them. Is college football big enough to withstand this crisis, or will it never be the same? Let’s ponder both sides of this issue: reasons why college football may, or may not, return this fall (or even for future seasons).

Reasons for NO Football in 2020 (and Beyond?)

Health: Specifically, the health of the players, fans, supporting staff and all ancillary people involved with these gridiron games. Remember how annoyed we were with the drunken louts in the stands during past games? That pales in comparison to someone sneezing and coughing repeatedly in section 11.  How will we ever relax and enjoy the game?

The new way to enter Autzen?

Financial Costs: Football is a game of ever increasing costs. Donors, fans, media, and athletic departments already struggle to cover costs for each season. Think of the extra staff and technology that would be required for fans to safely attend games now. How much to pay for infared thermometers to scan fans as they enter? What about disinfecting tunnels?

Relief could come from the government. It bailed out the major banks in 2008. Is football as important as they are? (You need not answer that question).

Online Education: How long will students stay home, unable to live on campus and attend class? It’s possible that, even after a vaccine is developed, fear over pandemics may lead bricks-and-mortar universities to go completely online. Will these campuses, then, simply be football factories for the NFL, dolling out scholarships to a few gifted athletes? Will we go back 100 years to when Harvard and Yale were the pre-eminent powers between the goal posts?

Social Distancing on the Field: Football is a contact sport. It simply wouldn’t work with current social distancing rules. Imagine a 15-yard penalty for coughing on an opponent. No celebratory high-fiving or hugging another teammate. Would we even want to recover a fumble or pick off an errant pass and possibly doom the entire team? These, of course, are in jest. But it’s hard to see how thousands of D1 athletes would feel comfortable competing together any time soon.

This celebration is not CDC-approved.

We could go on and on ad nauseam with the nays. You get the picture. From this perspective, college football seems too difficult to sustain, at least as it was played in the past.

After all, it really is just entertainment. Been to a movie theater lately? Other than getting the large refill of popcorn and getting your hearing damaged, have you missed that much? Nope. Life goes on.

Reasons FOR College Football in 2020 and Beyond

Tradition: The game has been played for nearly two hundred years. This pandemic may be a minor setback, but this rich tradition will continue regardless. Folks will recover, readjust, and stadiums around college football will be filled again soon. Fans simply won’t stand for an end to such a beloved sport.

Money (And Lots of It): Football brings in a ton of revenue for universities and businesses alike. Institutions won’t give up all that potential money without a fight. Fans will be willing to pay to keep this cash-train chugging (as it pulls all the other university sports programs behind it). The fate of Title IX, especially, would be impacted without revenue from football.

Toughness: Football is a man’s game. You gotta be tough to play, and toughness is exactly what is needed now. Facing down this crisis will only make players, and fans, better and stronger. It wouldn’t be in the spirit of the sport to fold and give up when confronting an obstacle.

Do players and fans just need to toughen up?

In reality, a 2020 season, and possibly future seasons, will not be able to proceed as usual. The following changes may need to be adopted:

  1. A shortened season. Perhaps conference games only.
  2. Media Day and Fan Appreciation Day, gone!
  3. The elimination of the Spring Game and fewer fall practices for the time being.
  4. Reducing scholarships, possibly down to 50, to reduce costs for universities.
  5. Televised games with no fans in the stands! Pay your season ticket costs to watch from home instead (maybe with exclusive footage/features available to ticket-holders?).
  6. The risk of strained or bankrupt university athletic departments. Maybe some government aid would be necessary.

I love watching my Ducks as much as the next person and I certainly hope football can return. But we need to face reality: How would you feel if the 2020 season was cancelled completely?

As we deal with serious economic and health issues in this country moving forward, we need to realize that college football pales in comparison to the possible ramifications of COVID-19.

What do you think? Should the government toss another trillion or two toward saving the game we love? Money we do not have is already going everywhere else. How about some for us football fans?

Steven Smith
Powell Butte, OR
Top Photo: From YouTube


Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.


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