It's been a long time since the college athletic landscape had reason for optimism in These Uncertain Times, and this week looks like it'll be worse than most.
According to multiple reports Monday morning, including the Detroit Free Press and the Dan Patrick Show, the Big Ten is poised to cancel fall sports in 2020, including the college football season it had just released a schedule for last week.
Dan Patrick reports Big Ten had internal vote & by 12-2 margin, league members opted on not having a fall football season. Nebraska & Iowa were only schools that voted to play this fall, @dpshow said. Patrick said Big Ten & Pac-12 would cancel fall seasons Tuesday— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 10, 2020
Shortly thereafter, Iowa canceled practice, and things looked bleaker than bleak.
Kirk Ferentz has canceled Iowa's 11 a.m. football practice for today.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) August 10, 2020
The news is especially bittersweet as those around the program itself spent their Sunday night making entreaties to try to salvage the season. A group of Iowa parents (evidently organized by the Goodsons) wrote a letter in support of playing in fall 2020, expressing full faith in the school and its medical personnel.
Hawkeye parents want to see their son's get a chance to play football this fall. They are passing along this letter. pic.twitter.com/7Kl8PbxXFL— Tom Kakert (@HawkeyeReport) August 10, 2020
Dozens of Iowa players also spent the evening and Monday morning tweeting with #WeWantToPlay, a movement spearheaded by Clemson star QB Trevor Lawrence. Several high-profile players, including OSU QB Justin Fields, also attached a graphic that calls for the creation of a CFB players' association (among other things), but as yet we don't believe any Iowa players have fully endorsed those points.
(It's also worth noting that this wouldn't be full-on unionization under the current legal structure — and college football players aren't exactly full up with lobbyist money — but conference-by-conference collective bargaining might be in play, and given the extraordinary circumstances, that alone may be asking for more leverage than conference administrators would like to give up.)
Still, the Big Ten plans to meet at 6 pm tonight with the fate of the season on the line (EDIT: it's just the athletic directors), and even if that report of a 12-2 vote (informal or otherwise) turns out inaccurate, the situation certainly seems dire.
What must be particularly frustrating for the players and families is that a postponement or cancellation would come so soon after making these pleas. And it's hard to read these pleas without getting the impression that players and families had been shut out of the decision-making process (truly a shock in college sports...........). That can't be tenable moving forward.
The thing that bothers me the most is that we were used as lab rats in this whole thing. We just got our schedule and now something has dramatically changed?? Where is the leadership from the big ten?— Mark Kallenberger (@mkallenberger71) August 10, 2020
Still, it's one thing for families to say they trust that the university can create a safe path forward for football, and it's quite another to, let's say, offer to sign liability waivers. And maybe they would prefer that to the alternative that's staring college sports in the face right now. But until universities' calculus on liability changes substantially — and as long as they don't know the long-term effects of infection even after recovery, they are obligated to fear the worst — college sports just doesn't have the foundation of certainty to rest on anymore. It sucks but it's true.
Cancellation would be a tough price to pay for months of half-measures and half-truths regarding the coronavirus, but if this is what finally prompts full cooperation with the goal of saving the basketball season, maybe it'll be a price worth paying.
But if we keep nickel and diming ourselves out of fear of spending one quarter once, we're going to keep ending up broker and broker with no end in sight. We can't keep doing that.
Stay home. Wear a mask when you don't. Enjoy the outdoors at a safe distance. You know all of these things. You've known them for months. Let's do them and finally commit to beating this virus before it takes more sports away from us. Let's do it for football, for the rest of the fall sports, for Luka Garza and all the winter sports athletes, and most of all for each other.
Go Iowa Awesome.