Power Five conferences debate merits of football season

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Rumors swirled Monday that the Big Ten would be the first Power Five conference to cancel its football season. The Pac-12 also was rumored to be pondering a similar move.

Rumors swirled Monday that the Big Ten would be the first Power Five conference to cancel its football season. The Pac-12 also was rumored to be pondering a similar move.

Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

Demond Demas, one of the nation’s top-rated receivers in the class of 2020, hasn’t played in a football game in nearly two years after the University Interscholastic League ruled him ineligible for his senior season at Tomball a year ago.

The Texas A&M freshman understandably is as frustrated as anyone that college football might be canceled this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Man I just wanna play ball,” Demas posted in part to social media pn Monday.

His fellow collegians feel his emotional pain, and a social media uprising sprang up Sunday and Monday, aching for a season. The players’ stirring was prompted by reports that Big Ten presidents intend to suspend that league’s season at least until the spring semester and that the Pac-12 could follow.

University and league administrators, former players, current players, media members and fans spent Monday drawing lines in the sand on whether the season should be played during the pandemic, moves prompting plenty of crisscrossing from all sides.

Even as the Big Ten appeared to lean toward canceling the season, Nebraska coach Scott Frost argued for playing one way or another.

“We’re a proud member of the Big Ten,” Frost told reporters Monday during a teleconference. “We want to play a Big Ten schedule. The only reason we would look at any other options is if for some reason the Big Ten wasn’t playing and only a handful of teams from the Big Ten wanted to continue playing.

“If that’s the case, we’re prepared to look at any and all options.”

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the probable No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, is leading the charge for players wanting to play — using the hashtag #WeWantToPlay — while other college players like University of Houston defensive lineman Sedrick Williams and Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney added cold doses of reality to the goings-on.

Both wrote they’ve had heart complications following battles with COVID-19, and the long-term impacts of the still-new virus on the heart are not yet known. In addition, a coalition of players is using this unprecedented era to make demands that have little to do with the pandemic specifically, with one of the mandates to “ultimately create a college football players association,” according to a joint statement from athletes across the Power Five conferences.

While the Big Ten and perhaps the Pac-12 appear to be making ultimate decisions Tuesday, fellow power conferences the SEC, Big 12 and ACC are adopting a more patient approach, although the Mountain West Conference canceled its football season, as did Old Dominion of Conference USA.

The SEC, for instance, already has pushed back its start date to Sept. 26, the fourth week of the original schedule.

“(The) best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new and you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey posted to Twitter on Monday, adding that the SEC “has been deliberate at each step since March,” including delaying the start of training camps and delaying the start of the season with students returning en masse to campuses later this month.

“(We’ve) developed testing protocols (and) we know concerns remain,” Sankey continued. “We have never had a football season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so … every day.”

What will ultimately happen? No one knows at this point, not even the university presidents calling the final shots. A handful of athletic directors opined on the subject Monday, however, with many joining the #WeWantToPlay push.

“Love the work ethic of @AggieFootball,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork posted to Twitter. “Despite some uncertainty, they continue to stay focused on their craft and passion for the game of football. We are supporting them at the highest level in all facets of their health and safety. #WeWantToPlay.”

Lawrence makes the case that players will be safer in a controlled environment on campus, but conferences and universities also are trying to figure out the liabilities if a player contracts COVID-19, gets sick and possibly even dies under their watch.

Alabama coach Nick Saban argued Lawrence’s side Monday.

“Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home,” Saban told ESPN. “… We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether it’s in a bar or just hanging out.”

Michigan State running back Connor Heyward posted to Twitter: “All these players tweeting #WeWantToPlay gonna be the same ones complaining if they get COVID and something happens to them. Just being real.”

More than 162,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with more than 5 million cases confirmed in the United States.

As Indiana lineman Feeney wrote: “COVID-19 is serious. I never thought I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened. We need to listen to our medical experts.”

Lawrence, already practically guaranteed a multimillion dollar contract as the top pick whether or not he plays this season, offered via social media: “Having a season incentivizes players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting COVID, because the season/teammates’ safety is on the line.

“Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance, or wear masks and take the proper precautions.”


Twitter: @BrentZwerneman