N.C. State Postponement, Alabama Surge Have College Football on Edge

Herb Gould

 And now, we interrupt the TMG Sweet 16 countdown to the 2020 college football season with a news flash: Due to 22 new positive virus tests, N.C. State has postponed its Sept. 12 opener against Virginia Tech.

Covid-19 permitting, the game will be played on Sept. 26.

“I feel like it’s you’re walking off the practice field and you’re just waiting for the new news that’s happened,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente told reporters during a Zoom call this week. “It’s not a daily thing. It’s almost an hourly update. And I think that’s going to be the normal.”

And with the season fast approaching, that’s looking ominous for a college-football season that’s already been pushed back.

Recapping a few reports from the last few days. . .

Texas Tech announced 21 active Covid-19 cases on its football team.

At Oklahoma, coach Lincoln Riley, who has been openly ambivalent about this football-in-a-pandemic thing, said all but one player at an unspecified position group have been unable to practice because of positive tests.

Before pushing back its opener, N.C. State paused all sports activities and abandoned its plan to have students on campus, ordering those who already had moved into dorms to head back home.

Ominously, after a surge of more than 500 Covid-19 cases on the University of Alabama campus, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox shut down bars for 14 days. Many local people find it “unthinkable not to have football in the fall,” Maddox said. But that seemed to be on his mind. ``There’s fatigue followed by frustration followed by fear, and we are in the middle of that. And it’s going to be incredibly difficult until there’s a vaccine for us to fully escape the shadows of Covid-19.’’

Alabama, by the way, has announced plans to allow 20,364 fans to watch games at 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium roughly a month from now.

LSU players have been prohibited from going to bars all season and are being urged not to go to parties when they are off from practice on Friday and Saturday night, coach Ed Orgeron said on a Zoom call.

``Get their girlfriend and go on a date,’’ Orgeron told reporters. ``Do what you need to do, take care of your business and go home.’’

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has made some clever and hopefully effective public-service videos about the importance of observing Coronavirus protocols such as wearing a mask, spoke openly this week about college football in these trying times.

``Is it more important than public safety? No, I don’t think so,” Saban told reporters. ``Is there a way we can do that and keep people safe? I think a lot of people are trying to do that. And if we can do that, I think we can play. If we can’t do that, I think somebody will make a decision that maybe we shouldn’t play. But I don’t think that we should not try.

``I really appreciate the fact that we have a lot of people out there working really hard, all right? Because this is about the players, all right? This is not about. . . everybody acts like we want to play for the money. We want to play for the players. I want to play for the players. We have a lot of guys on our team that can create a lot of value for themselves by playing this season, and we can create a lot of value and these guys that work very hard to try to create and accomplish something as a team.’’

When Saban is engaged, he can be very on-point. And he seemed to very on-point this week, with all the threatening virus reports in Tuscaloosa and beyond.

We’re all tired of talking about the pandemic, thinking about it. Worrying about it. And we are weary to the bone with the idea of letting some virus take away our college football.

One satellite radio sports-talk guy keeps saying the odds of a young person dying from Covid-19 are lower than the odds of an asteroid hitting the earth. Or something like that.

As if that’s part of this equation.

The key here is that the odds of a college sports team experiencing some positive tests are close to the odds that it will rain this week. Virus surges on college campuses do not come with odds. They’re just happening. And attempts to diminish the threat of Coronavirus tend to come from average joes cherry-picking data, not medical people who know what they’re talking about.

It is very clear that the key to containing the pandemic is to stop spreading the virus, which happens when people gather—especially people who are not observing the protocols of distancing and mask-wearing.

And that is a big challenge for young people. College students like to gather around kegs and chat. And they tend to believe they are indestructible. Even if they are at lower risk, health factors are huge, no matter what age. And anyone who spreads the virus keeps America bogged down in serious and dangerous ways.

We can debate all we want about what ought to be done, and what ought to happen. But basically, we’ll see how it goes for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC—the Power 5 conferences that are proceeding with their modified plans to play football this fall.

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