Two weeks ago, all signs seemed to be pointed towards a return to college football and fall sports in general. A six-week preseason plan, set to start on July 24, was proposed and passed and SEC programs had its athletes start returning for voluntary workouts on June 8.
The question of college football returning that once seemed murky looked as though it was on the precipice of being answered. Then a downward spiral began to occur. Prominent programs like Clemson and LSU saw multiple positive coronavirus tests across its programs.
To cap it all off, a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country has now forced HBCU schools like Morehouse College to completely cancel sports in the fall. States across the country are making efforts to enforce the wearing of masks out in public as the numbers continue to grow in states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana.
In Louisiana alone, 2,083 cases were reported on July 1 while in Florida, 6,563 cases were reported. On Wednesday, what was supposed to be a U.S. senate committee hearing on name, image and likeness in college athletics, quickly shifted gears to the coronavirus.
Sports Illustrated national writer Ross Dellenger reported that there is "growing concern among college leaders" that a season will kick off on time. Among those at the senate hearing was SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who told Dellenger that it's unsettling to see how much the virus has impacted various football programs across the country.
While the goal, at the moment, is to still have the season kick off Labor Day weekend, other plans are being prepared. One of the contingency plans being thrown around is pushing the start of the college season to the spring.
"When I’ve said we’re looking at contingencies, that’s always been one of those elements of 18-20 possibilities. You have to think about, ‘What will you know in January that will be different?’ It’s been difficult to predict," Sankey said. "We have to be careful in our decision making. Even amidst the concerning data now, we want to make sure we take care of our young people first and then we’ll see what happens through July to make decisions.”
According to Dellenger's report, the decision to determine if a season will be delayed would have to come before fall camps are supposed to start on August 7.
While Wednesday's news certainly wasn't encouraging, it also alludes to an underlying factor that could provide a further wrinkle into college football starting on time, what happens when students return for class? Just two weeks ago, Tigerland, a local chain of bars located just down the road from Tiger Stadium, had an outbreak of over 100 positive coronavirus tests.
The fact of the matter is that college students will still be college students and there should be legitimate concern of the conditions these athletes will be walking into once classes resume. Take Alabama, for example, where it was reported Wednesday evening that students who knew they had tested positive for coronavirus, attended parties.
If that wasn't bad enough, Tuscaloosa city councilor Sonya McKinstry said the students have been holding "COVID parties" as a game to intentionally infect each other.
"They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense," McKinstry said. "They're intentionally doing it."
Now this is just one extreme and disturbing story but the fact is that it’s impossible to ensure safety, particularly with the rate at which cases are currently increasing.
The problem with the NCAA ranks is that, unlike professional sports leagues like the NBA, the theory of a “bubble format” is not financially or geographically possible. These athletes will be walking to class, on campus and among their peers each and every week. Safety precautions such as wearing a mask to class would go a long way in making the athletes and students safer.
Some college football players are starting to speak up on the outlooks of a season as the current climate looks. Illinois senior linebacker Milo Eifler was asked about his comfort level with a season starting on time.
“Do we have a vaccine?" Eifler asked in a media availability. "I don't know. The football player in me wants to put on pads right now. Just leaving the house to go to the grocery store, I know everyone has been a little bit scared about 'What if I go eat with my friend on Friday in an outdoor-seated restaurant?' You want to do those things but in the back of your head you're like, 'Dang, I don't know. Is it right?'"
The fate of college football in 2020 will be decided in the coming weeks but there’s no question it looks a little bleaker now then it did two weeks ago.