College football season hinges on student-athletes social self-discipline

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

The countdown to the 2020 football season is on as all SEC programs began practicing this week with a launch date of Sept. 26 for a 10-game, all-SEC schedule.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have two practices under their belt and will go through their third today before breaking this weekend.

Next week the Hogs will begin to practice four times a week for the next three weeks before expanding to five practices a week during the two weeks leading up to the scheduled kick-off of the season Sept. 26 against No. 4 Georgia at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, according to a schedule provided by UA Media Relations.

Of course, any and all of that could change because of the coronavirus, but that is the basic practice plan for the next five weeks before what everyone hopes will be the beginning of the SEC college football season.

Classes begin on the UA campus Monday. The resumption of classes throughout the SEC this month is likely the most tenuous time the conference and its members have experienced, maybe, in the league’s entire history.

How players navigate through this time period will no doubt determine if there will be an SEC college football season or not. If athletes across the SEC footprint can largely return to class without contracting the virus, the season will start as planned.

However, if a return to classes over the next few weeks results in mass outbreaks of COVID-19 among the various SEC football teams, then the season will be jeopardized and possibly suspended or even canceled.

No one from the SEC has come right out and said that, and they likely won’t, but that is the key reason why the season has been pushed back from the first weekend in September until the last.

If the players from the 14 SEC programs can successfully navigate the first couple of weeks of the semester without having large outbreaks, we very likely will have some kind of a football season.

However, if when the players, who have been largely isolated among their teammates since July, begin to contract the virus en mass across the SEC footprint as they intermix with their university’s general population, then the season will be jeopardized.

There will be SEC players that will contract the virus as they begin to mingle more with the general population of their campuses. It’s going to happen. The “Oxford Eagle” reported Thursday that 13 Ole Miss athletes and one employee contracted COVID-19. As student-athletes begin to mingle on the 14 campuses, we are bound to see more “outbreaks” of this type.

How much is too much is something that will have to be determined among SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the league’s presidents and other brass because there will be other outbreaks as students return to campus and classes starting.

Hopefully coaches and team leaders can convince players throughout the SEC to be conscious of where and and with whom they socialize with on and off campus.

If I were an A.D., and it were possible, I’d have all my players taking on-line courses during the season as much as possible. However, on-line options might not be available for all classes.

This is where team leaders play a tremendous role. It’s going to be important for student-athletes to be careful with whom they socialize with throughout the season, but particularly in the next few weeks as students from literally around the nation begin to return to campus. Team leaders have to stress how important it is to their teammates to be as safe as possible as they attend classes.

I honestly have no idea what the probability of football being played this season is?

On one hand, it looks good in the SEC because the leadership seems resolute to push forward. However, the reality is that the season actually hinges on how safely the bulk of the athletes across the SEC footprint navigate returning to classes and mixing and mingling or maybe not mixing and mingling with their university’s general population.

I don’t envy the players, but if they want to compete this fall, they are on a short leash as far as socializing goes during the fall semester. How socially disciplined the players can be is going to determine whether a college football season during this pandemic is possible or not.

I don’t envy the student-athletes one bit. They lead challenging lifestyles to begin with in attempting to balance the demand of their sport with the demands of the classroom.

The good thing is that student-athletes generally have a great deal of self-discipline in the aspects of their lives that deals with athletics. Now, they must apply that same discipline to their social lives if we are to have a college football season.