August is around the corner, which would lead to thoughts of football on fall Saturdays under normal circumstances. This year, of course, there are no normal circumstances, but there are plenty of thoughts about football. They are just different ones.
The Syracuse football team is pretty fortunate as far as its exposure to the coronavirus is concerned. The state of New York is among those in America currently experiencing lower COVID rates.
However, Syracuse’s schedule is not a series on intrasquad games, so what about the opposing teams on that slate? If recent reports suggesting the ACC will be dropping non-conference games prove true, that still leaves eight conference foes from seven different states lined up to bang heads with the Orange.
There is also the possibility of additional games being added to make a schedule of more traditional length, including helping out ACC partner school Notre Dame fill their Saturdays. Even without any additions, there is enough to talk about with the eight conference games already there.
Recent heat maps showing numbers of COVID test cases in the lower 48 states show that only the SEC has higher representation than the ACC in areas with higher case rates, with both Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida all prominently featured among the areas with higher rates.
Clemson (a road trip to South Carolina), Georgia Tech, Wake Forest (a road trip to North Carolina), North Carolina State, and Florida State are all on the 2020 football slate. Even the University of Pittsburgh is in an area of that city where cases are over 50 percent higher than the city’s above average rate as a whole. Any guesses where SU is scheduled to close their campaign?
So, with a decision from the ACC on fall sports coming before the end of the month, it is only fair to ask a list of theoretical questions about the very immediate future of Syracuse football, the cash cow of college athletics.
What’s acceptable? Is it okay if a player gets sick? Is there a cut-off number of players getting sick that is acceptable? Three? Six? Ten? More?
After all, the very nature of football requires close contact, which enables an airborne communicable virus to be more easily passed from player to player. Just think about a Syracuse football game with their uptempo offense.
An offensive lineman who plays the entire game will be asked to line up across from a defensive player somewhere between 60 and 80 times. And those two players will line up not six feet, but six inches away from each other, then slam together in a literal “in your face” physical contest, grunting and breathing while engaged in essentially hand-to-hand combat.
Do you think it’s a good idea for a Syracuse player to line up against a Florida State player in such close quarters over and over? Or any two players, regardless of school affiliation?
And those theoretical questions go well beyond the players.
What if a coach contracts the virus on that road trip to Clemson? Or someone on the support staff who is a member of the traveling party? And what if that virus gets passed on outside of the program to someone from support services on campus or to one of the infected person’s loved ones in their home? And what if that person gets seriously ill, but survives, only to be saddled with massive medical bills? Or, even worse, what if that person dies?
Is the life of an equipment manager worth it so you can knock back on your couch in a comfy sweatshirt on a Saturday afternoon and plow through a pile of wings and a few beers? What about someone in food service on Syracuse’s campus or the spouse of an athletic staffer?
And what if a football player who contracts the virus? Maybe it’s even a player with a chance at an NFL career who gets coronavirus and survives, but only with diminished lung capacity, stripping him of the childhood dream he gave so much to pursue?
And if a player passes away, will that player be remembered as a “hero”, like so many others who have contracted coronavirus? Or will it be a much more truthful memory where it was a person who was unpaid for his work as an athlete so an academic institution could keep millions of dollars coming in?
College athletes get treated like kids when that is convenient and treated like adults when that is convenient. Academic institutions, just like the rest of us, need to make sure they remember that college athletes are people who need to be kept safe, not grist for the mill that turns to keep money coming into the coffers.