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Tom Rysinski: Just pull the plug on college football already

Just pull the damn plug already.

The Mid-American Conference last week became the first conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision — the highest level of college football — to cancel fall sports. This announcement came shortly after the University of Connecticut, entering its first season as a football independent after moving other sports from the American Athletic Conference to the Big East, canceled its football season.

The MAC already was in line to lose millions collectively because of lost games against teams, mostly in the Big Ten, that are now playing only league games this season.

A hoax, indeed.

This doesn’t even take into account that some players on teams that are having a season are opting out because of COVID-19 fears. The University of Maryland, a member of the Big Ten, just had six players choose not to play, including the Terrapins’ starting quarterback.

Several Big Ten teams have had to suspend workouts because of outbreaks within their campuses. One of them, Rutgers University, had a whopping 28 players plus multiple people associated with its football program test positive for COVID-19.

That, among other things, led the Big Ten on Saturday to “freeze” training camps “until further notice” after a Saturday morning conference call of the league’s university presidents. That move came just days after the conference optimistically announced its revised 10-game, conference-only schedule, with the ambitious goal of opening the season Sept. 3.

There are rumblings that the Big Ten canceling fall sports is inevitable. It was the first FBS conference to announce its teams would not play nonleague games — and there were complaints about the league acting without consulting other “Power 5” conferences, all of which shortly took a similar route. If the Big Ten were to cancel fall sports, you might hear the same complaints, followed by other conferences doing the same thing.

Why? It’s not because the Big Ten is the most lucrative in the nation, with a history that stretches back to 1895. It’s because, among other reasons, if there are outbreaks in other conferences while the Big Ten players are safe at home, it will be a public relations disaster. (And a public health issue, but that is, sadly, not on top of the minds of people at the big-time football schools or this season would have been shut down already.)

Cardiologists say that the virus seems to attack the heart, even in otherwise asymptomatic people, and already 10 college football players have had COVID-related heart issues. At least one college football player has developed an enlarged heart after contracting COVID-19.

A German study found heart inflammation in 60 of 100 recovered virus patients, including those who had mild or no symptoms. And it’s no secret that Germany has done a better job than the United States in slowing the transmission of the virus.

It’s no secret why the high-level leagues want to play while the Ivy League, Pioneer League, Big Sky Conference, Colonial Athletic Association, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference and Patriot League already canceled football season, leading the NCAA to shift the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs to the spring. Money.

Schools at lower levels don’t make the kind of money from football that FBS teams do, obviously. But the end result of that is that those schools have an unhealthy dependence on that money from football. Absurd coaching salaries, palatial football “training complexes” and other amenities are part of a rather sickening arms race that would require a significant upheaval to end.

Such as, oh, I don’t know, a pandemic?

Within the state of Nevada, Clark and Washoe counties, where UNLV and UNR, respectively, are located, are first and third in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people — lest you think it’s because of their urban character and all of the alleged horrors associated with that, Nye County ranks second — and second and third in positivity rate of tests, behind Nye, which has the highest percentage in the state.

The number of visitors to Las Vegas who tested positive for the virus tripled between late June and late July. You can bet football players from Mountain West schools can’t wait to play the Rebels and risk getting sick in a place that has a much higher number of COVID-19 cases than, say, Laramie.

There’s no reason to wait. There’s no reason to pretend. There’s no reason to risk fate. If the Las Vegas Raiders decided there won’t be any fans in brand-new Allegiant Stadium in their first season in Nevada, what makes college football think it should proceed in a different way? And, without fans, college football just isn’t the same.

Stop. Regroup. Don’t play this season. Use the time wisely.

Wouldn’t it be great if, at a time when athletes are making more demands (many of them reasonable) than ever, at a time when the financial lifeline of college football is actually at risk, that administrators, coaches and players actually use all of their new-found free time to take a good, hard look at the ungainly behemoth that is their sport?

Perhaps the “Power 5” should break from the NCAA — if I’m making the call, I’d do it but just for football, which might make the conferences go back to normal for other sports and not have Temple and Houston or West Virginia and Texas Tech be in the same leagues, to say nothing of Old Dominion and Texas-El Paso — and take the time to figure out what that entails. Perhaps this new group can get a rein on spending, because only by collaborative action will it get under control, and there’s no way the current NCAA can do that.

But before they decide what to do with the time, give yourselves the time. Don’t play.

We don’t know what is going to happen with the virus. Who expected Arizona to be low-risk one month, a hot spot the next month, and then be on the right track another month later? Back when it was mostly in New York and New Jersey, who expected Mississippi to chase Florida for the highest case rate in the nation?

It’s not worth the risk, it’s not worth the potentially bad PR, and it’s not worth whatever millions you make from those TV contracts.

Just pull the damn plug already.

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com

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