Cal Football: Colleges Must Have A Different Standard For Returning Than the NFL

Jeff Faraudo

Will we have football this fall?

It’s a question I hear all the time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly four months ago, a question we are all asking.

But it’s not one question, because football is played at different levels with different circumstances.

Without a doubt, the criteria that should be — and I’m sure will be — used to decide whether it’s OK to play college football will be different than the standards applied to the question as it applies to the NFL.

High school football is a different matter altogehter.

The topic is discussed in this SI roundtable, and the points made by Georgia team reporter Brooks Austin of DawgsDaily, Maryland reporter Ahmed Ghafir of AllTerrapins and Oklahoma reporter John Hoover of AllSooners bring into focus the stark differences between college football and the pros.

For me, the biggest difference boils down to this:

College football players are young men sent by their parents to schools that promise to educate them (including developing them as athletes), help them grow into adulthood and oversee responsibility for them in the meantime. In other words, keep them safe.

Financial compensation beyond a scholarship is coming to college athletics, but it’s not here yet. At this point, college football players make money for the school, but the equation is not reciprocal.

Meanwhile, pro football players are full-fledged adults who should understand the risks, are very well paid and thoroughly responsible for themselves. They have agents and unions who presumably also look after them.

And if a professional athlete deems returning to work as too dangerous given the coronavirus, he is free to opt out. Many already have in various professional sports.

And while it’s theoretically possible for college football players to do the same thing, it’s not reality. First of all, young men ages 18 to 22 see themselves as invincible, and they are to the extent that they have strong, healthy bodies that in almost all cases will easily overcome the virus.

The bigger point here is that many college football players view this phase of their lives as a stepping stone to where they ultimately want to be — the NFL. So opting out is not an option in their minds because it would inhibit their progress and send the wrong message to pro scouts.

The NBA is arranging a “bubble” system to keep teams sequestered in Florida for the remainder of its season and postseason, and even that is meeting with some resistance.

Creating a protective bubble for college athletes simply isn’t feasible. If colleges re-open their campuses and classrooms to students, then athletes will be mixing, as usual, with thousands of their fellow students on a daily basis. Those gatherings will be academic, but also social. We all remember our college days.

College administrators and conference executives are working daily to create models that might allow football to safely be played. There is urgency to find a solution because the financial stakes are high, yet that cannot be a priority above the welfare of their student-athletes.

The assignment is daunting because their responsibility is so much greater than what their pro sports counterparts face.

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page.