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Tom Rysinski: College football games continue losing to COVID

Updated November 27, 2020 - 7:16 am

So how’s that “college” football season going?

If you’re sitting at home not caring what game comes on television, you’re probably all right. The networks have had games to show, even if they were not always the games they intended to show. Bet you’ve never seen so much Sun Belt Conference football.

But for everybody else, not so good. We’re up to 89 games (as of noon Tuesday) that have been postponed or canceled, despite the fact only six conferences were playing until the last week of October. And my primary issue, that colleges are playing sporting events while few if any of their students are on campus — despite assuring us back in the spring that of course they wouldn’t do that — continues to fester.

Look no further than Reno. UNR President Brian Sandoval (remember him?) announced last month that all classes after Thanksgiving would switch to remote instruction for the rest of the fall semester. The university already has decided that all classes with more than 35 students will be taught online during the spring semester.

If you thought that the Wolf Pack’s football schedule goes beyond Thanksgiving, you were right. So UNR will join the “college football without college” crowd.

Before that happened, UNR was able to win the Fremont Cannon back from UNLV, providing a needed bit of normalcy to the season for Nevadans. (The game, not the result; I won’t take sides in that.) Since then, the virus has attacked the state again, with one-third of all cases here reported just since October, including a record 2,853 cases reported Tuesday. UNLV’s game at Colorado State last week was canceled; the Rams earlier had a game canceled before anyone in the Mountain West played one.

The Lancet medical journal found that bans on public events were associated with the highest reduction in the spread of COVID-19, while an analysis published last week showed definitively that the states that took the most drastic mitigation measures in the past have fewer cases and fewer hospitalizations now. Meanwhile, a Reno hospital just converted its parking garage into a medical unit for COVID-19 cases.

I guess that counts as fake news for some folks. Otherwise known as easily verifiable facts.

And some people in hospital beds continue to insist they must be suffering from something else because COVID-19 isn’t “real.” My mind flashes on the classic satirical movie “Airplane,” when one of the TV news commentators says, “I say, let them crash.”

The pandemic has brought out the worst in some people, people who don’t seem to understand the concept of “public health emergency.” Now I’ve never been one to overestimate the intelligence of the masses, but it’s getting worse. It’s almost as if the nation sponsored a “Colossal Boob of the Month” contest. Well, maybe second-most colossal.

And college football coaches have been lining up to claim the prize. One nominee is Florida’s Dan Mullen, who blamed Texas A&M’s crowd for a road loss. He demanded his team’s fans pack their own stadium to capacity, which nobody seemed eager to do even if a particular state’s governor, in this case CBOM nominee Ron DeSantis, allowed it.

Shortly after Mullen made his demand, the university’s student newspaper revealed that 19 Gators had tested positive for the virus. As a result, Florida had to suspend its game against LSU because it didn’t have enough healthy players to take the field. And then, on Saturday, Mullen revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Of course he did.

How about a CBOM nomination for Les Miles of Kansas? Miles complained about players who chose not to play this season because of the pandemic, insisting that those who opted out were actually “opting in” to COVID-19 because they would be more likely to get infected away from campus.

Sure, if you’re in jail or a nursing home, perhaps. The former is not impossible for a big-time college athlete, but let’s assume the wheels of justice turn slowly enough that someone who was in camp in August wouldn’t be behind bars by November.

Not surprisingly, it turned out that Miles’ statement was not only foolish but in the end a bit embarrassing, because he, like Mullen, is among coaches to test positive for the virus. Of course he did.

Although no college football coach has had a particularly bad case of COVID-19, several have tested positive, including Mike Norvell at Florida State, Jason Candle at Toledo, Kevin Sumlin at Arizona, Chip Kelly of UCLA, Manny Diaz of Miami and Blake Anderson at Arkansas State. Several of them missed a game or two while in quarantine.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech played Boston College without more than a dozen players with possible infections, and that number was actually down from their season-opening game against North Carolina State. The Hokies’ original opener against Virginia was postponed until December. Almost everybody has had to play without key players because of positive tests.

This season’s record books will have so many asterisks in it people will think a few dozen expletives were deleted.

Over in Conference USA, Western Kentucky on Nov. 14 was playing in its ninth game while Rice had played just two.

In the Big Ten, Wisconsin played the opening week and then didn’t play again until three weeks later. The Badgers “paused football activities” — a phrase that has become a cliche — because of 27 positive tests within the program, 15 players, including the top two quarterbacks, and 12 staffers, including coach Paul Chryst.

I guess they opted in, right Mr. Miles?

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, with infections soaring at the University of Michigan, local health officials in late October ordered students to shelter in place for two weeks. “It’s basically a concession that the ill-conceived reopening plan didn’t work,” tweeted Nicholas Bagley, a Mighigan Law School professor. Data show that more than 60% of COVID-19 cases in the area are tied to the university.

At least five bowl games, including the inaugural Fenway Bowl in Boston, will not be played, which is just as well as there aren’t enough decent teams to fill all of the bowl slots anyway. Still, that’s more than 15 hours of live sports ESPN will not have to show in late December. Get ready for cornhole reruns.

Three weeks ago, Sam Boyd Stadium hosted college football. No, Allegiant Stadium didn’t kick out the winlessRebels. UNR played New Mexico there because the Lobos can’t practice or play at home because of the strict COVID-19 restrictions in place in New Mexico. The Lobos will be nomads for the duration, and surely you must realize that will have an impact on their performance.

More asterisks in this, the Year of the Asterisk.

Many of the games lost will not be played, even after the number of nonconference games was reduced drastically this year. A record has been set in each of the past three weeks — 10 lost games three weeks ago, 15 lost games last week, 19 this week — as almost 30% of this past Saturday’s games postponed or canceled, with every conference affected.

And things are different from conference to conference. The Big Ten waited as long as possible to create as safe an environment as possible (good), but then made a schedule with no weeks off in case games were lost to COVID-19 (bad).

The SEC was hell-bent on playing football regardless of the situation (bad) but built in off weeks so games could be played if they had to be skipped on their original dates (good). Except that, oh yeah, the situation is still a mess, the worst it’s been all year, and there’s a really good chance the postponed games will not be made up. So the Big Ten is left with games it won’t be able to reschedule and the SEC will be left to cancel games it already postponed.

And now COVID-19 has become an issue between schools. Over in the ACC — may it forever burn in hell for its multiple raids on the Big East — CBOM nominee Dabo Swinney of Clemson ripped into the Florida State administration after the Seminoles declined to play the Tigers because a symptomatic Clemson player’s test came back positive Saturday morning.

“If the standard to play was zero positive tests, then we would have never had a season,” Swinney said, clueless and insightful simultaneously, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize it. And yes, the player in question was in Clemson’s traveling party and went to Tallahassee for the game. Now FSU isn’t particularly good this year, but in many years past this game not being played would be huge.

All of this should make for some fun meetings of the College Football Playoff committee. And with the varying number of games scheduled, the varying number of games actually played, and the lack of nonconference games to use as measuring sticks, the entire operation will have — what else? — giant asterisks.

A survey of 1,700 colleges and universities, including every one that competes in NCAA sports, showed at least 252,000 cases and at least 80 deaths since the pandemic began. In state after state, the worst concentrations are found in college towns. The highest numbers are in the South and Midwest, coincidentally places were college football is the most popular.

This entire idiotic enterprise is tied to the fact that, with colleges facing huge revenue shortfalls because they can sell very few or no tickets to games, they desperately need to keep the TV money flowing. What’s 252,000 cases compared to the millions of dollars at stake? Who cares if the college kids can’t be college kids when the ESPN crew is headed this way?

Look, nobody enjoys fall Saturdays more than I do. Whether it was tailgating before games back in my own college days — thankfully, the Rutgers University police made Paul Blart, Mall Cop look like Sgt. Joe Friday from “Dragnet” — or spraining my thumb on the remote switching to watch parts of a dozen or more games on television, it’s the best time of year for a lot of us.

Still, “college” football has long been a cesspool of improper benefits, recruiting violations and irrelevant academics, and I doubt very much that will ever change. But, as has been argued here before, actually having college sports without college is hypocrisy on an entirely different level.

But I guess since only 80 people have died on campuses, and only one was a football player, and most weren’t even students, what’s a little collateral damage when we can watch Buffalo battle Bowling Green on a Tuesday night?

Or when the Wolf Pack get to paint the cannon.

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