Last evening, CBSSports.com had a report saying that Oklahoma State football coach, Mike Gundy, said that he wanted the football program “re-opened” by 1 May. He said some of the right things about the ongoing pandemic such as the importance of staying healthy, testing people and developing both an antibody test and a vaccine. Good for him. Then he also said that the young people in the program – the 18 to 22 year olds – who were healthy were in a position to fight off the coronavirus if they contracted it. Here is a link to that report in case you want to read it to determine if I have mischaracterized Coach Gundy’s statements here.
I take issue with one part of Coach Gundy’s statement and for his vision with regard to the restart of football activities at Oklahoma State:
- The young men on that football team – the healthy young men – are not expendable. They should not be exposed to more dangerous situations than are absolutely necessary. AND playing big 12 college football in the time of COVID-19 with our current understanding is not sufficiently “necessary” to warrant their exposure to the danger of dying.
I have significant interest in seeing the “return to normalcy” in the sports world as rapidly as Coach Gundy does. In the specific case of college football, I like the game on a national basis far more than the average guy on the street. Moreover, college football provides me with a bounty of material to use in these rants.
Having said that, the health, well-being and continued existence of the young men who play the game is far more important to me than material to rant on. When I think about times when young men were deemed expendable – sending them to storm the beaches at Normandy or Guadalcanal for example – the reason they were so labeled was a whole lot more important than a schedule of football games.
I understand that there is some value in optimism. I also know that many people can be moved to optimism by enlightened self-interest. Coach Gundy has ample self-interest in the re-launch of Oklahoma State football, and it does not take a MENSA member to realize that fact. That is precisely why he needs to be doubly careful in the way he expresses any sort of optimism about the situations/conditions whereby college football “returns to normalcy”.
There is a middle ground between Coach Gundy’s hyper-optimism and Kirk Herbstreit’s gloom-and-doom prognostication for a college football season in 2020.
- College football would surely be a different spectacle if they played in empty stadiums – but that might be a necessary accommodation in the Fall of 2020. That is not ideal – – but it is better than no games at all.
- Maybe some of the overseers of the games need to start thinking about a truncated 2020 season. Instead of 12 regular season games perhaps this season will only have 6-8 games. Under those conditions, maybe the bowl game contracts need to be readjusted so that the minor bowl games can provide a way to determine “conference champions” in these unusual circumstances.
We need to begin to think and speak carefully about the future of sports and sports events given our current understanding and control of the COVID-19 virus. It need not be doom and gloom and it ought not be the promulgation of false hope. False hope is a curse; it plays cruelly with the feelings of others; consider this statement from a wise man indeed:
- “My favorite period of history was the Middle Ages. If you were born as a serf, you lived as a serf and you died as a serf. There was no false hope.”
I want to say a word about the idea of teams playing in empty stadiums. As I said above, that situation would make the spectacle on television very different, but it is not an impossibility. I got an email from a reader informing me that Wrestlemania happened last weekend in an empty arena. I have not watched pro ‘rassling for at least 35 years and maybe longer; I did not see even a moment of Wrestlemania last weekend. But I have to say that if pro wrestling can find a way to exist without crowd reaction/interaction, then the same is possible for MLB or college football or the NFL or … It may not be ideal, but none of those mainstream sports relies on “crowd participation” to a greater extent than ‘rassling.
Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding sports and social distancing:
“Ahead of their time when it came to social distancing: Secretariat … Iditarod mushers … Marlins fans …”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………