By Mark Nagi
Late last week, the NCAA released its “next set of return to sport” guidelines.
And if you thought it would be business as usual in the sport we all love so much, think again.
Other sports such as golf and cross country have been affected by COVID-19, but let’s be clear. Football is the sport that drives the engine in an athletics department, and it is what most of us would be missing a great deal come September.
“When we made the extremely difficult decision to cancel last spring’s championships it was because there was simply no way to conduct them safely,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “This document lays out the advice of health care professionals as to how to resume college sports if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable. Today, sadly, the data points in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”
Emmert, of course, has been nowhere to be seen over the past few months. He’s been accepting his multi-million-dollar salary and staying in an underground bunker at a time when college sports desperately needs leadership. So, it’s hard to accept him being the guiding light this late in the process.
But the fact that he is finally speaking up (even if it is only in a statement crafted by their PR staff) speaks volumes about the situation.
Without football this Fall, athletics departments across the nation will be in financial ruin. You wonder of course how this can be, considering that the student-athlete is mostly unpaid labor, while a Power 5 athletics department brings in high eight to low nine figures in donations, ticket sales, TV deals, merchandise…
The reason of course is because they spend their money on things they don’t really need and pay huge salaries to people that don’t deserve that high of a tax bracket.
Sure, I’m talking about the college football head coaches, that have absurd buyouts written into their contracts. Only in college football can a failing head coach like Derek Dooley receive a $5 million goodbye gift after going 4-19 in SEC play. But there are a lot of folks you’ve never heard of in athletics departments across the country earning six figures for limited effort.
Athletics departments are technically “non-profits,” so those dollars must be spent. If there’s no football this Fall, it’s going to be tough to justify going in debt while paying those high salaries. The happiest people in college sports are likely the head coaches who are on the hot seat because there’s no way you can pay those large buyouts when already losing tens of millions of dollars.
But that all said, there is still time to save the season. The problem is that many people still refuse to follow guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing, which has led to the most recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Among the NCAA guidance for its member institutions are that there should be a 10-day quarantine for infected players and that “All individuals with high-risk exposure must be quarantined for 14 days.”
The fear of course is that this could cause an entire unit to be lost, like an offensive line because one player tests positive. And that, in turn, might mean the games are canceled. No one wants that, but it is the reality we live in right now.
For now, we will wait and keep good thoughts for college football to return.
Washing your hands a lot can’t hurt either.
Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction,” which takes an up-close look at all that led to Tennessee’s crazy coaching search back in 2017. The book is available on Amazon.