Today is July 10th. In 57 days Purdue is scheduled to play a football game against Memphis. Or rather, they were scheduled to do that until yesterday’s announcement that the Big Ten will be moving to a season with only conference games for the 2020 season. So as of now there really is no 2020 Purdue football schedule. In fact, if you go to www.purduesports.com and try to find the football schedule you can’t even choose the 2020 schedule.
It’s as if it doesn’t exist. In many ways, it doesn’t. We sit at the intersection of money, safety, and sports right now with no one able to say for sure which direction we will go or even if we can somehow go down more than one path simultaneously.
The reality of college athletics, especially big conference college athletics, is that football is king. Without football numerous other sports don’t make fiscal sense. Just looking at revenue generated, not profit, as of a Forbes article from 2018 a school like Texas A&M is said to have averaged $148 million in annual revenue for their football program. Imagine taking that type of hit in your financials for a year. What would you have to cut in order to make up for that shortfall? How many people in your department would you have to layoff? Keep in mind also this comes on the heels of March Madness being cancelled which cost schools additional funds from the most lucrative basketball event of the year. These back to back hits could cripple any number of schools.
In fact, we’ve already seen numerous schools cutting programs seemingly for good. That will impact untold numbers of students. But, what can be done? Do you risk the safety of your athletes and all those they may come in contact with in order to save the light crew team at your school? Do you try to reel in a big fish like Phil Knight who can give you unlimited sums of money to keep your department afloat? Do you cancel the entire season out of an abundance of caution and merely hope that you can figure out the finances? There are no easy answers here. There’s no road map. For ADs and conference leaders in this situation it’s time to earn their money. These people make millions of dollars to face and solve the difficult challenges that come their way and in my 34 years on this Earth I can’t remember a more challenging situation for college sports.
I think it’s obvious that I love college sports. I prefer them to pro sports, except for baseball, and have spent years of my life focusing on them. I spent two years working in the Purdue Athletics Department. I’ve been writing here at Hammer and Rails, and previously on my own site, for nearly a decade. I’ve spent my hard-earned money on season tickets and memorabilia. My fandom is not in question. But to me, it’s simply not worth it. There should be no college football in 2020. The risks are too high.
We don’t know how this disease impacts even the young and healthy in the long term and what we do know should be enough to scare the hell out of young men and women who may hope to live normal full lives setting aside those who hope to go pro. Prolonged and possibly permanent damage to the brain, lungs, kidneys? That’s a hard pass from me. Think about someone like Rondale Moore. What incentive does he have to play a 2020 season plagued by, well, a plague? Should Moore get infected during the 2020 season he would likely come out “healthy” on the other side but what does that mean for someone recovering from this disease? Will there be permanent damage to his lungs? Seems to me that would be detrimental to a guy with an incredible talent/skillset that will earn him millions of dollars if he stays healthy until the next NFL Draft.
It’s easy for all of us fans, most of us far away from out athletic primes, to say that the season should go on and that we’ve eventually got to get back to normal. It’s easy because what does it cost me if they restart the season and say 5% of the Purdue football team gets Covid-19 and then recovers? It costs me nothing, but I don’t know what it could cost these young men, you don’t know either, and quite frankly doctors are indicating that they don’t know for sure either. To me that’s enough information for me to say we should not put these young men, mostly black, onto the front lines of some misguided attempt to jump start an economy to make us all feel a little bit better about the current state of the country.
With so much going on we all need and want a distraction. We desperately want college sports to come back, but unlike the NBA we can’t put all the college athletes in a bubble and have them only interact with each other. As the NCAA likes to remind us most of these athletes are going pro in something other than sports. For them it’s incredibly important to work on their degrees and ensure that they are prepared for their lives outside of college. I’m not sure how they would do that effectively if they remained isolated from the majority of the world. Online learning offers some avenues but the drawbacks of it are simply too great.
Taking in all that I know as of this moment I see no reason why everyone associated with college football, and other fall sports, should take this type of risk. Cancel the season, wear your mask, and wish Rondale Moore luck in the NFL Draft. There are bigger things than my entertainment at risk and I won’t be the one responsible for causing damage to any young man’s healthy merely because I miss having entertainment on Saturdays. Let’s meet again in 2021 Purdue football. Just know that I love you, I miss you, and I’m thinking about you.