Will there be college football in the Midwest this autumn? It’s become such a huge part of fall in the heartland that it’s almost unimaginable that the leaves could change and the air could chill without the clash of shoulder pads and helmets, tailgating, and the roar of crowds in huge stadiums.
But it is 2020, and the coronavirus is still burning its way through America, and we’ve just got to accept that things may well be different this ugly, star-crossed year.
The Mid-American Conference, which traditionally provides early season opponents for Big Ten schools, has postponed its entire fall sports season, including football, and apparently hopes to play games in the spring of 2021. The Mountain West Conference has followed suit. And yesterday there were news reports that the presidents of the colleges in the Big Ten Conference, the grandaddy of Midwestern college football conferences, had voted to cancel football and other autumn sports — although reports are conflicting, and some news websites are saying an official vote and announcement will be forthcoming today.
Of course, this possibility sends a collective shudder through the stalwart members of Buckeye Nation. We love our football, and every year we look forward to seeing the Men of the Scarlet and Gray head out onto the gridiron. Every year seems filled with special promise, and this year — with many Ohio State players returning from a team that came within a whisper (and a few dubious referee calls) of playing in the national championship game — was no exception.
But even a huge fan like me realizes that this is not an easy decision. Many of the coaches and players are urging the league to go forward with games. They want to play, and they note that football is a dangerous game even during normal times. But, obviously, there is a unique health risk during a pandemic where disease transmission is so easy, and playing football — with players repeatedly in direct physical contact with each other, touching the same ball, huddling together, and breathing heavily, inches apart from each other, on the line of scrimmage — seems like the riskiest sport of all. The colleges need to decide for themselves whether games can be played with a proper margin of safety, or whether the risk of players suffering permanent harm for the sake of playing games is just too great.
We’ll have to see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we experience a football-free fall this year. And I really couldn’t blame the colleges if that was their decision.
If so, it will give us another reason to remember 2020 with regret and disgust.