On Monday, Michigan State football’s players will embark on their first team sessions in the Mel Tucker era.
Finally. At least for now.
Because even with a two-week period of team activity coming, uncertainty remains ahead of the Spartans and the rest of college football. And change is beginning to happen.
The Big Ten eliminated nonconference competition Thursday for all fall sports, followed by the Pac-12 on Friday. Ohio State suspended its voluntary training. The Ivy League halted its sports until the beginning of 2021. Other schools around the country already are dealing with significant coronavirus outbreaks after players’ return to campus, and other conferences beyond the West Coast and Midwest are weighing similar strategies to the Big Ten’s.
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Already forced to pull the plug on the first major event in his tenure, March’s Big Ten basketball tournament,
new commissioner Kevin Warren’s next decision could be even more seismic: Cancel the football season entirely.
“We may not have sports in the fall,” he said on Big Ten Network. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.”
It is a stark admission of uncertainty in a sports world that often puts optimism over realism and within which coaches are used to ultimate control.
Time is waning for Warren and the other Football Bowl Subdivision commissioners to make that call, one that could have significant financial ramifications for all 14 Big Ten schools and their counterparts nationally.
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The Big Ten’s current plan – only 10 games against league opponents – allows the conference to take the reins of testing. It also leaves safety risks to the whims of 18- to 23-year-olds avoiding the social scene of a typical college student.
Good luck with that.
Ultimately, programs will not try to follow the isolation measures adopted by professional leagues; because doing so would give college athletes another legal argument toward getting paid from the billions of dollars in revenue generated predominantly by football and men’s basketball.
So sticking to members-only play is about as close to a bubble environment as is possible,
even though that may not be feasible to sustain during a pandemic, thanks to how the expansion era has turned previously regional conferences into alliances that sprawl halfway across the country.
The next three weeks, when teams can resume some semblance of normality, will be pivotal.
Tucker and his new coaches – who had their debut spring practices canceled in March four days before they were to begin – finally will be permitted to work hands-on, from Monday through July 23. However, the NCAA rules approved in June limit what can be done – eight hours of weight training and conditioning, six hours for walk-throughs (with a football) and six hours for film review and/or meetings (team, position and one-on-one). Athletes are required to get at least two days off.
Yet the situation remains fluid and can be stopped at any point, either by the school, the Big Ten or the NCAA. And there may not even be a need for a preseason camp if the season gets scuttled.
The fallback plans if that happens that should be addressed sooner rather than later – but moving the entire season to spring isn’t one of them.
At least not in the sense many are thinking.
It is unrealistic to move all 12 games, plus conference title games, bowl games and the four-team College Football Playoff into a slot months later.
Particularly because things could be no different than they are now, lacking a vaccine and facing a scarcity of testing and high costs to do the daily or weekly checks that are needed. This is especially true if the NCAA remains hands-off and does not implement uniform testing across sports.
There also is the potential for health and safety issues beyond COVID-19. Football already has a significant amount of inherent injury risks on a normal schedule. A spring season could last into April or May…