The middle of July has traditionally been home to a day that almost every sports fan dreads, as the arrival of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break creates a void of despair in the form of one of the rare squares on the calendar that boasts a grand total of zero events featuring any members of North America’s biggest sports leagues.
It may just be a single day but it can feel like an eternity, as there’s only so much you can do to prepare for being deprived of a fix that’s normally readily available. If you want to ease the pain that comes with this withdrawal, you can spend the day reading Adam Schefter’s tweets about largely inconsequential NFL roster moves or even resort to watching a WNBA game, but you’re not going to be truly out of the woods until the Home Run Derby rolls around.
It goes without saying that fans will have a much easier time dealing with that date after this year, as it’s currently been three-and-a-half months since we’ve been treated to any games brought to us courtesy of the Big Four leagues and will have to wait another few weeks until the dry spell comes to an end when the MLB season kicks off on July 14th.
Every league that’s trying to salvage its season has put together a plan in an attempt to keep people as safe as possible. However, as Mike Tyson once famously said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, and over the past couple of weeks, the infectious disease they’re trying to combat has clocked them with an increasingly alarming number of shots on the jaw.
Last week, the Tampa Bay Lighting reported multiple people in the organization had tested positive, Nikola Jokic revealed he’d suffered the same fate on Tuesday, and while the PGA looked like it was off to a solid start, Brooks Koepka joined Nick Watney as the second player on the tour to contract it.
When everything first went to shit, it seemed like the football world was in a relatively good position compared to other sports by virtue of the fact the NFL and NCAA seasons don’t start until the fall. However, based on what’s transpired in the college football world in recent weeks, we might have to start preparing ourselves for the very real possibility that it may not start at all.
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that playing football and keeping players safe may be two totally incompatible concepts and suggested the only real solution is to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and harness the bubble strategy it adopted (although the effectiveness of that approach is already being called into question).
While the NFL could theoretically pull that off, the same cannot be said for a league that’s home to 130 teams that are comprised of players who have both athletic and academic responsibilities to attend to. However, even if that was somehow in the realm of possibility, it would be a recipe for disaster based on how miserably some programs who only have their own players to worry about have fared at protecting them so far.
Football players were allowed to return to campus at the start of June and it took the University of Alabama—which has some major incentive to make sure football is played this season—less than a week to announce five members of the team had tested positive.
Oklahoma State and Auburn joined their ranks shortly after in addition to the University of Texas, which had 23 members of the team in quarantine as of last week only to see LSU raise the bar on Sunday by revealing 30 of its players were in isolation. It’s also worth noting these are just the cases that we know about, as ESPN’s Laura Rutledge says there are likely a number of others that haven’t been publicly disclosed.
The unhealthy amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter over the years has taught me to never underestimate mankind’s capacity for stupidity but I’ve been shocked by how many people seem to earnestly believe the best way to salvage the football season is to promote herd immunity because [insert Guy Tapping Head meme here] you can’t get other players sick if all of them have already been sick.
I had to look up how to spell “epidemiologist,” so while I’m anything but an expert, you’re inhabiting another reality if you don’t think this is just the start of an overall trend. When you consider all of these cases stem from people attending voluntary workouts, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to assume things will only get worse as more and more players from around the country travel back to campus in the coming weeks.
I have no reason to believe any of the aforementioned schools aren’t employing measures designed to keep people healthy, but as John Harbaugh recently noted, the only way to play football while adhering to recommended guidelines concerning masks, social distancing, and the like is to transform it into an entirely different game. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many rules you put in place or how strictly you adhere to them when you’re constantly huddling and having the guys in the trenches lining up six inches away from each other on every play.
Look—everyone wants college football season to happen this year, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to die if it doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s a chance (however slim) that someone could actually die so schools could salvage some revenue and fans don’t have to figure out other ways they can entertain themselves on Saturday afternoon.
We’ve still got over a couple of months until September rolls around and I sincerely hope things turn around by then. However, I also hope we don’t end up looking back at things and ask ourselves why we pushed so hard to make the season happen.