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The Limits of Delusional Optimism

Let’s face facts: there is not going to be a full season in the fall

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
I want to see him play for the Tigers again, too
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

We’re not playing college football this year.

This is not an argument on behalf of cancelling the season, this is simply looking at the world right now and realizing that we lack the capability to have a college football season this fall.

It may have been possible when we first learned of the coronavirus. Maybe if we had all washed our hands, worn a mask, and avoided social contact as much as possible, we could have nipped this thing in the bud.

But the fact is, we didn’t. I don’t really care who is to blame, and there’s a long list of people you could put on the list, but it generally boils down to this: the government’s messaging has been inconsistent to downright incoherent and too many individuals has been unwilling to make the sort of communal sacrifices necessary for the benefit of the collective whole.

Whoever your bogeyman is: the WHO, Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo, the governors, the mayors, the Black Lives Matter movement, people who couldn’t go another month without dining at a restaurant, young people, old people, whoever. Everyone can take a large slice of this collective public policy failure.

But it has failed, and expecting that we can somehow coax unpaid college kids to obey draconian quarantine procedures so that this multimillion dollar business doesn’t get slowed down is, frankly, insane.

LSU had done everything right. The school had procedures in place, had engaged in baseline testing, and like nearly every school, tried to keep their players under a strict schedule even before the campus filled back up with a ton of students.

And 30 players are now in quarantine because the players wanted to go to Tigerland. While it is our blog’s official policy to Stay the Hell Out of Tigerland, the incident illustrates how impossible the task is. We are herding cats here.

We are trying to keep a hundred players, dozens of coaches and trainers, and an untold number of support personnel under a quarantine in a global pandemic for six months. We are denying these kids their college experience, in the hopes that none of them get exposed to a virus they almost certainly will get exposed to.

There’s no way we can lock down all of the people involved in over a hundred Division I programs for a half a year. It’s probably impossible to do it at one school, but maybe somebody will get lucky. But at all the schools? It’s not a policy, it’s a fantasy.

Now, it might be possible if COVID-19 cases were showing signs of slowing. If the virus was waning, then you could make a good faith argument that the season would be difficult, but possible. But here’s what the infection rate looks like in six states:

It’s not getting better. I wish it were, but it’s not. Trying to contain the virus on a college football team on a college campus in the midst of a pandemic is like trying to stop the waves of the ocean. Even a capable, rational, and aggressive university is still subject to the utter public health disaster around them.

We haven’t even gotten into the fact that expecting a bunch of 18-25 year olds to make tremendous personal sacrifice so the rest of us can enjoy their labor is not going to fly on every campus. Players are going to rebel somewhere, and rightfully so.

It’s one thing to ask a professional athlete who is getting a large paycheck and has his interests protected by his agent and a powerful union to make some sacrifices for our entertainment. They are in the entertainment business, and are well-compensated for it. Asking a kid to do it for a scholarship, particularly when you are denying him the full value of that college experience, is a much tougher sell.

This is a house of cards being constructed in a wind tunnel. There is no way it stands. You can keep trying to construct it if it makes you feel better, but the end result is inevitable: there will be no college football season this fall. I don’t blame people for trying to make it happen. Heck, I admire their fighting spirit. But you cannot create a safe zone for college football in the midst of a national pandemic. Especially when its getting worse, not better.

Whatever chance we had to have a college football season ended when we failed to curtail the spread of COVID-19 over the spring and now summer months. Barring a sudden and miraculous change in public policy and societal habits, there is not going to be college football in the fall. And that is completely out of college football’s hands.