MLB Shows College Football There's Still a Lot to Learn about This Virus Thing

Marlins manager Don Mattingly and Phillies skpper Joe Girardi disscuss opening-day ground rules with the umpires.

Herb Gould

 Should college football fans be encouraged by the return of baseball?

When I first wrote that on Monday, I thought the answer was yes. But as events unfolded, the situation took a serious turn for the worse. At least 13 members of the Marlins organization tested positive. As a result, Miami's season is on hold for at least a week. Also postponed was a Yankees series against the Phillies, who played their first three games against Miami. 

And so,  the first major team sport to resume playing official games on home turf finds itself in a serious bind, if not crisis mode. How baseball proceeds will be especially instructive for college football. And yet another warning sign.

The NBA and NHL resumptions use a bubble concept, which is very different from the home-and-road issues that college football faces.

Beyond that, college football has so many more obstacles than pro sports in general, and MLB in particular. Baseball has fewer players. And baseball player aren’t in close proximity to each other the way football players are.

If baseball can't find a way to play, that's a bad sign for a sport like college football, which has far larger traveling parties. In addition, the complexities of a college campus, combined with the financial burden of testing and social distancing (when feasible) on a so-called amateur sport, continue to make me believe there will be no college football this fall.

And even though baseball has started—enjoy it while it lasts!—there are no guarantees of how far it will get. The Marlins' situation is a textbook example of that. And White Sox manager Rick Renteria was kept away from his team for a day pending tests after he experienced virus-like symptoms that turned out to be a false alarm.

Baseball faces a very troubling situation. To say the least. Even if it finds a way to handle the Marlins problem, the entire shortened season promises to be a tightrope walk.

If there’s one thing that we’re learning as the nation tries to control and move past this Coronavirus, it’s that it is a learning process. . . An immense learning process.

We’re learning, for example, that vigilance is a relentlessly difficult thing.

When pandemic-peril awareness started in March, did you use gloves to take your mail out of the mailbox? Leave your groceries outside the door until you could wipe them down? Have all your groceries delivered? Tremble with anxiety when you were in a pharmacy or other essential store? Not even think about sitting inside a restaurant? Or outside at a restaurant?

Some of these things, we are learning, cannot be maintained easily for months on end. So we contain our anxiety one way or another. Or abandon it.

Even the most careful among us have lapses. I saw a golf buddy I haven’t seen since last fall. And he had the audacity to try to shake my hand. I almost forgot to back-pedal.

When I watch baseball games, I see players sitting too close, without masks. In golf, there are fist-bumps, elbow-bumps. Are these things OK to do? Are we over-reacting?

And then there are the young people who are going to. . . act like young people. There are people who are vulnerable because of population density or occupational hazard. And people who don’t understand that masks matter.

We have learned a lot. But we still have a lot to learn.

Do people have immunity after they have been exposed? When a vaccine is available, how far-reaching will its containment capability be? What if, as reported, a significant number of people refuse to take the vaccine when it’s available?

Do you wonder, while you are taking precautions, exactly how many people you have crossed paths with who actually are threats to pass along the virus to you? I know I do.

I suspect the number is low. Very low. And then I wonder if people in the world I move in are starting to feel safer, to let their guard down, because nothing has happened so far. And because it’s too difficult to keep their guard up for months on end.

The point is, it’s good that our spectator sports are taking tentative steps to return. Golf and auto racing seem to be doing OK. Baseball is under way. The NBA/NHL bubble plans are proceeding.

We’ll see how the NFL fares. I have my doubts. But I had my doubts about baseball.

College football, I believe, is much more problematic than professional sports. I applaud the game’s administrators for pursuing every possible way to make it happen. But I believe they ultimately will conclude that college football makes no sense this autumn. Because it doesn’t.

It’s a shame that we didn’t take this pandemic threat more seriously in the early going. If we had, we would have a much better handle on it now.

That said, we didn’t. And college football, it appears, is one of the prices we are going to pay. 

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