NCAA hits college football with kidney punch

On the surface, NCAA president Mark Emmert’s announcement Thursday that there would be no college athletics championships sanctioned by the governing body for the rest of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t seem to have anything to do with football.

The NCAA does not govern the College Football Championship or for that matter the bowl games. The Football Bowl Subdivision decides its championship mostly outside the NCAA’s purview. FBS teams still operate under NCAA regulations, but the NCAA has no say in the playoffs or the bowls.

Emmert made that distinction clear when he made the announcement Thursday on Twitter.

“We cannot now at this point have fall NCAA championships,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “We can’t in any Division I NCAA championship sport now — which is everything other than FBS football that goes on in the fall. Sadly, tragically, that’s going to be the case this fall, full stop.”

Last week, the NCAA Board of Governors announced that if 50% of eligible teams in a particular sport, and a particular division, cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport.

On Wednesday, that became official when the Big East decided to postpone its fall season until 2021.

This move by the NCAA is the second shot to the kidneys to college football in less than a week.

The first and most damaging came officially on Tuesday but had been rumored since last weekend when the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences announced their teams would not play football this fall due to health and safety concerns of playing the sport while the coronavirus continues to thrive throughout much of the nation.

Many assumed the other Power 5 Conferences would follow suit, but the SEC, Big 12, and ACC conferences intend — at least for the time being — to continue moving forward with playing football this fall.

However, media pressure remains immense for the those three leagues not to play football this season. Sports pundits around the nation have heaped criticism on the three leagues for not following the “caution,” “common sense,” and “science” like the Big 10 and Pac-12.

The basic insinuation or out and out accusation is that the three leagues are putting finances above safety of the players, despite the fact that players overwhelming want to play even with the risks. Players have been given the option to not play this season, but still retain their scholarships.

Both Big 10 and Pac-12 officials said they are following the direction of health-care advisors in making their decisions.

However, the SEC, Big 10, and ACC are also following the directions of health-care advisors and at the moment still see a way of possibly playing this fall through discipline of their student-athletes wearing masks, practicing social distancing, along with other sound hygiene methods and extensive COVID-19 testing — three times a week — prior to games.

The SEC went as far to playing only intra-conference games so all players are working, practicing and playing under the same health guidelines. The SEC also decided to push the start of the season back three weeks to Sept. 26. Moving the season back will give the league time to judge how the mixing of student-athletes with the general student population on SEC campuses will affect the infection rate.

Even with those and other precautions in place, the SEC has yet to definitively decide that it will play football this fall. It is being patient to make a final decision, according to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. He wants to collect the most information possible before the league votes on a final decision.

So, again, how does the NCAA’s decision to cut out championship play in sports like volleyball, soccer, and cross country affect college football?

It just adds more pressure for the three leagues to give in and give up on playing not only football this fall but also all other sports. If football goes, then so will conference play in soccer, volleyball, and cross country.

The NCAA’s decision also places winter sports like basketball, indoor track and field, and gymnastics into question, at least when their season will actually start.

Here’s Sankey’s response to Emmert’s announcement, which most athletes got through social media rather than through their coaches because of Emmert’s release of the cancelations through Twitter.

“Our soccer, volleyball and cross-country student-athletes are working hard to prepare for their seasons and they have been diligent in taking personal health precautions and following protocols around COVID-19,” Sankey said. “We will support them in every way possible as we evaluate the impact of these cancellations on their fall sports seasons.”

Not the most ringing endorsement of continuing competition in those sports without the the carrot of NCAA championship play.

Personally I hope the SEC, Big 12, and ACC seek avenues for their other fall sports to compete just like I do with football. No, none of the sports are cash cows. They are expenses that don’t even come close to breaking even, but they are worthy expenses for the opportunities they provide to those student-athletes and to students and fans who enjoy watching them compete.

College athletics isn’t all about playing for a championship, although the national media likes to shape it that way. It’s about competing every day in practice, in training, games and events and not just on the gridiron but also on the pitch, in gyms, and the trails.

Every avenue should be exhausted in an attempt to allow student-athletes to compete this fall before just calling it all off. It means too much to them, their families, coaches and support staff to give up without going to the wall.

Ultimately, the SEC, Big 12, and ACC might determine that the liability risks of hosting competitive sports this fall are too great just like the Big 10 and Pac-12 decided. If that does happen, it will be a sad day. Thankfully the SEC, Big 12, and ACC haven’t decided to pull that plug just yet.