The Big Ten may be doing the right thing. We don’t know.
Canceling or postponing college sports might prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in college towns across the country. We don’t know.
I’m not here to argue what we don’t know. I’m here to point out the obvious.
On the weekend of Sept. 5, the same administrators who vote to lock their stadium gates will still have hundreds of college athletes on campus. Those students will still occupy fraternity and sorority houses, dorms and dining halls.
Only they’ll do so without the extreme supervision and standards they would’ve had as competitive student-athletes. They’ll be just like everyone else. Encouraged to social distance (yeah, right). Encouraged to visit the doctor if they experience symptoms. Encouraged to attend classes — in lecture halls where air particles presumably disperse just as they do inside a locker room. Only now you’ve eliminated their primary reason for choosing your school and pursuing a degree.
No, they won’t be tackling other students like football players do. Hopefully not. But all the other risks still exist. That’s the thing. College administrators can minimize responsibility and reduce potential liability, but they can’t lock every 20-year-old in his or her childhood bedroom.
I am not a virus denier. Not even close. I certainly don’t make comparisons between COVID and the flu.
But our safety standards are so inconsistent, they’re laughable. We’ll cancel a billion-dollar entertainment industry but we won’t enact a mask mandate? We’ll close off locker rooms, but won’t lock bars and restaurants and box stores and parks and factories and office buildings and churches?
Canceling sports would be far more palatable if our society extended the same precautions across the board. If we really took this stuff seriously. But we don’t. We proceed like an interstate driver with a blindfold over one eye. Like a parent who prohibits a toddler from touching the stove while handing them a hatchet.
I know, the Big Ten doesn’t have authority to close off the frat house. But the universities that comprise the Big Ten sure do. If we’re going to take COVID seriously, why are we still settling for half-measures?
Maybe football was a pipe dream all along. Maybe even empty stadiums weren’t going to work. And maybe the Big Ten’s decision will indeed save hundreds of lives. I don’t know. You don’t know. But to shut down a sport that produces so much value — not just financially — while much of America ignores the pandemic is maddening.
If you really want to drive yourself crazy, consider all the free Saturday nights that Big Ten football players will have this fall — and what they’ll do instead.
Probably not sit in solitude and study next year’s playbook.