It seems like just yesterday I was struggling to fall asleep as I anxiously awaited the annual arrival of the Big East Tournament, which is the closest I’ve come to experiencing the magic of Christmas since I first developed trust issues with my parents after learning they’d lied to me about the existence of Santa Claus. As a huge Villanova basketball fan, I’ve been going to Madison Square Garden to attend the event for years as a nice little appetizer for March Madness, a formidable one-two punch that makes those few weeks my favorite stretch on the calendar.
Yes, there was this little thing called “coronavirus” in the back of my mind as I lay in bed on the night of March 10th, but at that point, there had only been around 300 cases reported in New York City. With that said, I had some trouble drifting off after my brain treated me to a “What If” scenario and spent a few minutes entertaining the possibility that the situation was actually pretty serious and had the potential to change life as I’d always known it. However, it didn’t take long for me to brush that ridiculous notion aside and get the rest I needed for the drinking that lay ahead.
Less than 24 hours later, everything came crashing down as Rudy Gobert’s penchant for fondling microphones led to the NBA announcing it was suspending its season and almost every other major organization in the sports world followed suit. At that point, I decided it might be best to pack a bag and head to my parents’ house to get out of NYC for a bit, which is where I remain over six months later wearing the same sweatpants I been rocking for the majority of that span.
The only thing worse than the Big East tourney getting called off is that I had been planning to pay my credit card bill with the carefully researched $20 parlay I’d put down on the first 16 games, but once I got over that loss, I had to grapple with another when I came to the realization that sports were sort of just…gone. I’ve honestly had a hard time getting interested since then, as the UFC has been nice but I’m not a huge hockey guy and I just haven’t been able to get into what the NBA and MLB have been offering in recent months.
There was initially a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of football season, but in the months leading up to the fall, it started to flicker thanks to the two diametrically opposed schools of thought that thrust its fate into question as people on both sides lobbied for decidedly different approaches. In one corner, you had guys like Clay Travis pulling out the “COVID is a hoax and you’re more likely to die driving to get tested than you are from the actual virus” argument while pushing for everything to go on as scheduled. In the other, you had the likes of Darren Rovell taking the “This is the scariest thing of all time, I’m currently bidding on Jake Gyllenhaal’s protective orb from Bubble Boy (which has seen a 387% increase in streaming over the past 62 days) to stay safe” approach.
Darren, you, like many other people in sports media, desperately sit around rooting for the worst. I don’t understand it. MLS, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, UFC, NBA, & boxing will all be playing by August 1st. The NFL will play too. If CFB doesn’t play it’s because schools & admins panic. https://t.co/eYGpvPsZKr
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 13, 2020
Don’t leave your house again then, Karen. If an athlete doesn’t want to play — or a coach doesn’t want to coach or a ref doesn’t want to ref — they don’t have to. But the rest of us, those of us looking at actual facts as opposed to fear porn — are ready to get back to life.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 13, 2020
I actually like both of those dudes outside of this debate but they are unbearable when it comes to arguing about this topic. I’ve gone on record as saying I think the cure to the pandemic could possibly be these two making out, but neither has responded to my requests so I guess we’ll never find out.
— Tj Francis (@teejfrancis) August 10, 2020
There are obviously plenty of people with a point of view that falls between those extremes but basically everyone is affiliated with one of the two camps that initially tore college football apart. When I first started working on this article, 54 programs had called off their season (most notably the entirety of the Big Ten and Pac-12) but it didn’t take long for many of them to have second thoughts. Earlier this week, the BIG (it’s always fun to stylize it like that) backtracked and announced it will indeed be playing once October 24th rolls around. As I write this, rumors are still swirling that others could also hit “undo,” but as of 5 P.M. EDT on September 18th, the entire Pac-12 and 28 other schools are sticking to their guns.
Regardless of whether or not your team of choice will be partaking, it’s going to be a weird season for every college football fan that’s going to require some big adjustments. This includes the weirdos who have memorized the scouting reports of an entire roster of players they’ve been stalking on Twitter since their first official visit as a junior in high school but it’s going to be especially jarring for more casual fans who simply look forward to the Game Day Experience.
There are so many hallowed traditions every variety of fan looks forward to taking part in that will be significantly altered this year, whether you’re a student who’s become accustomed to the festivities that unfold on campus, an alum who relies on tailgating at home games to relive your glory days, or simply someone who loves nothing more than using college football to justify drinking heavily on your couch on an idyllic Saturday in the autumn.
However, who I really want to focus on here is everyone with an affiliation to a school that either won’t be taking the field at all this season or that won’t be playing until around the time of year people blinded by nostalgia get really into watching Hocus Pocus even though it’s not that great. You’re probably feeling a bit lost right now, but have no fear, as Tj is here to save the day.
Now, I’m no expert, but I thought long and hard about the unique challenges different groups of fans are going to face now that this void has suddenly appeared in their lives and dreamed up some possible ways to fill it. I feel morally (and may possibly be legally) obligated to stress anyone who harnesses this advice to cope does so in a safe and responsible manner by taking all of the proper precautions that have been pounded into your brain and shoved down your throat for the majority of the year.
Now that I have, here’s how you should approach game day when there aren’t any games you have an emotional investment in depending on which of the following categories you fall into.
I’m not going to lie: you guys have it the worst of all. You only have four years to take advantage of the college experience (or possibly five or six if you’re more concerned with the extracurriculars as opposed to what brought you there in the first place), which isn’t a ton in the grand scheme of things.
It flies by especially quick if you’re drunk as often as any good college student should be, and while you might think you have plenty of time, just wait until you wake up in your childhood bedroom for the first time after graduating. It’s like a dream; you can’t remember most of it and you can’t believe most of what you do recall actually happened and now your mom is screaming at you to wake up so you’re not late for work. Time truly is a flat circle.
Missing out on an entire football season is simply brutal. Sure, most students care much less about the final score and much more about having an excuse to wake up earlier than they ever would on a typical weekday so they can shotgun a Four Loko, and while there’s nothing stopping them from still doing that, it’s kind of just sad when there’s no real endgame. It’s kind of like betting on sports when there’s literally no way you can lose. You can drop $100 on the Chiefs as -2000 favorites to beat the Football Team but you’re not going to get much fulfillment out of it.
Based on what I’ve seen since students began to flock back to campus, many of them are still having trouble grasping the nature of what caused this situation in the first place. To many, COVID isn’t a “deadly health threat that the general public needs to get together to combat.” No, it’s “that piece of shit that ruined the progress I made with Claire last spring and I’m not going to let it fuck up the fall (and no, I also won’t be taking any precautions to stop it from spreading because that’s how it wins”).
If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that you should never underestimate the ability of college kids to figure out ways to turn anything into an excuse to drink and the pandemic is simply rife with opportunities. There are obviously plenty of students out there who are doing what they can to be responsible, so while football may be out of the picture this fall, you can still do Zoom tailgates for the games that would’ve been in addition to throwing Social Distancing darties, Corona Negative bashes (gatherings where Corona beers are banned), and toga parties where the traditional attire is replaced with hazmat suits.
In the end, anything that involves clever wordplay and a bunch of alcohol is going to be a good time. Those gatherings might not be as big and will lack the craziness that comes with football-related festivities but students are going to figure out a way to do college to the fullest extent despite any restrictions they may be confronted with. Sure, there’s nothing quite like waking up slumped against a random car after missing the first half of a game your friends abandoned you at a tailgate to head into, but if you still have the chance to pass out in a place that isn’t your own bed, you’re not missing out on the college experience entirely.
Recent(ish) Graduates (22~32)
I don’t know why, but capping the age limit at around 32 years old felt right (if you’re married and have a kid before that point, you should probably turn your attention to the next section). The urge to wake up and drink the entire day also diminishes with each passing year over this span, but I think if you’re single at 33 and still waking up asking where the party is, you might want to take a closer look at the reasons you haven’t gotten hitched yet.
Most of the people here have reached a point in life where they have a job and the various responsibilities that come with being a productive member of society and look forward to Saturdays for the chance to let it all hang loose. One major issue with post-college life is your tolerance tends to take a hit and hangovers begin to greet you with a vengeance you rarely encountered as an undergrad, so if you start throwing them back early in the morning, you’re probably going to hit the sack around the same time you and your boys would’ve been pregaming for a night out back in the day.
Typically, this group will go to a bar for the games, which is kind of hard to do when bars still aren’t really a thing. Instead, everyone who’s down to meet up in person will bring a pack of IPAs because you’re mature and cultured now. You’ll spend a solid few hours hanging out with your buddies, discussing which hop bill you prefer even though you don’t have any idea what the fuck you’re talking about.
You’ll also share your thoughts on the current situation in a conversation where a sizeable percentage of sentences begin with the words, “I actually read an article in [some highbrow outlet]” to come off as knowledgeable (even though you only saw the headline on Twitter). You’ll talk about how much it sucks, but deep down, you’re kind of relieved you no longer feel obligated to drop $400 a weekend at the bars because you can barely afford rent as it is.
The biggest loss you’re going to have to grapple with is not having an excuse to make your yearly trek back to campus. There’s nothing better than circling the homecoming game on your calendar knowing you’ll get a chance to reunite with your buddies who ended up scattered around the country and having some motivation to stay in shape on the off chance you run into your ex-girlfriend.
Still, something is better than nothing.
Older Alumni (33- 50)
This is a weird age group for this “no football” thing. These guys want nothing more than to throw their children out the window and go out with the squad to catch the game, but the moment they said “I do” and suddenly found themselves responsible for the end product that comes with performing your marital duties without protection, the dream was officially dead.
Just yesterday, this group was setting alarms for early Saturday morning so they could start the day off with a power hour, but now, a “power hour” is getting in and out of Ikea in under 60 minutes. They fantasize about going to the store and never coming back, but in the end, they sacrifice their good time so that their wife and kids can be happy.
All they want to do after mowing the lawn twice (because their spouse didn’t like the way it looked after the first go-around) is to slump down on the couch and spend the rest of the day there, but as soon as they sit down, problems arise that they must tend to immediately. Soon, they’re wiping away tears while reading texts from their single friends that say, “Holy shit, did you see that play?!,” which they did not because they were too busy wiping their newborn’s hiney. If they’re lucky, they might be able to watch the last three minutes of the West Coast games.
I think people who fall into this category are actually extremely happy that there’s no football. They know every year that goes by is another one closer to their second wave of freedom. Comedian Nate Bargatze said it best: parents always say the best time of their lives is after the kids move out of the house. They don’t look forward to the start of football season; they eagerly await its merciful end, as they’re not constantly reminded of what they’re missing out on and it means they’re just that much closer to a new kind of glory days.
There’s nothing more they want than for their kids to go to college so they can go to Parent’s Weekend and shotgun a beer with their son only to watch him crush it in 3.2 seconds. As a dad, the instinct is to yell, but all they can do is smile and say, “I’m proud of you. Let’s run it back in Pong.” But until the glorious day marking the father’s newfound freedom comes, they’re taking care of diapers and yard work as everyone else is watching the Iron Bowl.
With a canceled season, they knock three birds out with one stone. They get as much done around the house as they can, the kids are getting older and one year closer to leaving, and they can use the “family time” they put in this year as leverage to get some “me time” next year. I’m not saying the four hours they spent playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” on a Saturday in 2020 will necessarily be viewed as valid justification for taking some time for themselves to watch football in 2021 but it’s certainly worth a shot.
Certifiably Old Alumni (51+)
When you reach this point, things start to get fun again, which makes a lack of football a major bummer. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but when you’re on the wrong side of 50, the clock is ticking. You can’t afford to miss a football season because of some silly virus. These people rely on those overworked and underpaid kids on the field to make them feel alive again, dammit! Of course, they can’t be too mad because their doctor told them they need to cut down on their stress levels (which a year without football might actually help with) but it doesn’t mean they have to be thrilled with the development.
Whether or not your kids are out of the house by this age, they’re still old enough to be doing their own thing. If it wasn’t a college football Saturday, these guys would be much less inclined to let their daughter go hang out with a boy who’s four years older than her but they now have more important things to worry about. This group is past the “I need to be there for my kids” phase. They did what they could. It’s up to them to not fuck their life up now.
Instead of waking up early to drink, they do so in order to grab a coffee and take the dog for a walk. Once it’s game time, however, it’s officially on. The wife is out shopping buying god knows what with his credit card but he doesn’t care because he’s got a 12-pack of Miller Lite and an afternoon of football ahead of him. He doesn’t feel weird about cheering in a room home to no one but himself—in fact, he prefers it that way.
Without college football, these people are going to feel lost. Like the rest of us, they are devastated knowing it’s a wasted year. Thankfully, being old has its advantages and this is the only group of people who will be more than content watching games they attended in college uploaded to 480p on YouTube. Not only is it a great way to relive the good old days, but they also might not even remember how it ends thanks to the memory loss that comes with old age. Of course, they are going to need their children to find the games and put on a new one whenever it ends but they’ll still be able to remember everything they forgot about that glorious run their school made during their senior year in 1978 (at least between the regular beer-induced maps where they dream about their girlfriend at the time).
Again, this is a weird year for everyone. Even if you’re lucky enough to root for a team that’s decided to play, it’s going to be hard to adjust to watching Virginia Tech take the field as “Enter Sandman” blasts through the speakers along with crowd noise to compensate for the fact that basically everyone in the stands is made of cardboard. However, there are still ways to make this work so grab some beer, throw on a mask, hop on Zoom, or do whatever you need to cope and hope that whatever awaits us in 2021 doesn’t end up making us pine for 2020.