BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Trying to determine if a college football season can be played seems like a no-win situation every day. It is, without question, a polarizing topic. That's what makes that final do-we-blow-it-up decision so hard.
Very smart and observant people think it's pure idiocy for several dozen players to be having physical contact every day on football fields all across the country, and that there's no way to protect everyone from the COVID-19 virus. We've already proven that, they argue.
But there's another group of very smart and observant people who think just the opposite. They will argue until they're blue in the face that this virus is overblown and with proper precautions, a full season could be played. They'll admit that a couple of players might get sick, but it'll be minor and they'll all get over it in a few weeks.
And you know what's really hard? Both sides are right.
How can that be, you ask?
That one side, they can count nearly 165,000 dead in the U.S. from COVID, and their fear of more deaths in an open America is real and legitimate. I certainly sit on that side of the fence often. I've been all for staying indoors and out of crowds sit March, and I wish more people would have done the same. And on Monday, when I wrote that players and the campus medical experts should have more say in whether the season gets played or not, many of these smart people — including some of my best friends — completely disagreed with me. I didn't argue, That's fair, and they too are entitled to their opinions.
But that other side, their points are valid, too. They will try to tell you those most of those deaths come from older people and not young and healthy college kids. They will tell you that the vast majority of college-age young adults who've caught the virus were fine a few weeks later, and they wouldn't be wrong. And they will tell you — loudly, most of the time — that America needs to get back to work, get back to normal and that those billions of economic dollars need to start flowing again, or our financial disasters will kill even more people than COVID.
Hence, the no-win situation.
And that's what the Big Ten leaders have been grappling with for months, and most especially in the past few days when the fish-or-cut-bait decision needs to be made.
It's not easy.
Rumors have been circulating since Sunday that the Big Ten was ready to shut down the fall football season and re-visit the opportunity to play again in the spring. Some media outlets jumped the gun and said they had made a decision to bail on the fall, but that's not true. It could happen soon, but it's not done yet.
And why not? Because these university presidents and chancellors and conference executives are listening to the medical experts. And they are — from a distance — paying attention to the outpouring of support among Big Ten players and coaches who adamantly saying they can do this safely and they want to play.
Will that be enough to go forward? There are many who hope so — hand raised — and hope that this Big Ten season can be played. Not having a football season would cost thousands of people their jobs in and around all 14 college campuses, from bar and restaurant employees to hotel workers and on and on.
The biggest argument that many Big Ten coaches made Monday was that THERE IS A PLAN IN PLACE. Part of going back to practice meant following very strict protocols. Indiana, for instance, has been practicing since last Thursday and "it's all been very positive. The guys have gotten into a flow and rhythm and we haven't had any guys showing up and having any issues with their health,'' Allen said after Monday's practice.
And he reiterated too that Indiana's medical staff, led by Dr. Larry Rink, is making all the calls in how to do things safely. That plan INCLUDES being able to go forward and play an entire season while keeping everyone healthy, following all the rules and testing everyone involved at least twice a week. And plans are solidly in place as well in case someone does test positive.
It can be done.
"Yes (there is a plan to go forward).'' Allen said. "You don't really know until you go through something. We had our challenges over the summer with some situations regarding this — (several positive tests forced voluntary workout to be paused for almost two weeks) — which you would someone expect and you learn and grow from that, and you learn from other people.''
Since then, there have been no such issues. Privacy laws prevent them from announcing who tests positive, but they are hard at work now with no new outbreaks.
"We did the five days of OTAs leading up to fall camp, which I thought were excellent, and it was one of the best things we've ever done here,'' Allen said. "It was in a controlled setting and you get a chance to do that right before fall camp, and it felt like a tremendously valuable time because we were all together.
"It was great, because we were lifting and running and doing the meetings and the walk-throughs, and then the first four days of camp, everything has gone really really well.''
So far, so good. Allen said. The fourth-year head coach constantly preaches player safety, but he also made it clear that he wants to play if they can. And the vast majority of his players want to do the same. No one has opted out of the season at Indiana, and even star wide receiver Whop Philyor joined the #WeWantToPlay movement on Twitter on Monday.
Sure, it's just been a week of OTA's and a week of practice, but Allen has seen that it can work. But, like me, he can also see both sides of the argument.
"You don't know until you start physically start doing it,'' Allen said, "but from what I'm seeing right now with everything I know and what I've seen these last four days, everything has been very positive.
"We're in daily communication with our medical staff. They alert us with things they're concerned about, and how we can continue to go forward. They tell me what they see out on the practice field, and that's been constant. They feel like this is something we can continue to work through, and make it work. When they tell us to do something, we do it. We're doing all we can to keep our players safe and get them ready.''