Thinking out loud: What is next for college football?

UMass football
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Thinking out loud…while wondering about the “mysterium tremendum” facing us in college athletics today…

  • The college football season is teetering on the brink.  Of what, I’m not quite certain.  Let’s just say this ain’t Doug Flutie’s or Gordie Lockbaum’s heyday any longer.

 

  • Who says New England isn’t a college football hotbed?  Two local programs have led the way for the entire country to consider shutting things down – UMass shut it down this week, following UConn’s lead last week.

 

  • And UMass had only one player opt out, and one other player test positive.  They still shut it down.  The rest of their sports fall under the Atlantic-10 umbrella, which closed for all fall sports earlier this summer.

 

  • But like UConn, as an independent UMass had also lost Power 5 games on their schedule, and the income that went along with playing those games.  Add to the mix the threat of myocarditis – the same condition that felled Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez for the season – and the picture begins to clear.

 

  • The Athletic reported ten Big Ten players tested positive for the heart ailment, which started the Football Five-domino effect earlier in the week.

 

  • And yet, those who choose to play on, do so at their own peril.  Bravery or stupidity?

 

  • The thought occurred that those who choose to play on could sign waivers, so their schools aren’t held liable for any subsequent illness.  But the NCAA, under some misguided, morally-bound congressional pressure, put the kibosh on that idea.

 

  • I mean, since when has Congress acted morally on our behalf?  Or their own?  Please.

 

  • This is truly one of the more baffling, difficult, hard-to-get-a-grip-on events of our lifetime.  A groundswell of support for players’ playing – #wewanttoplay – and coaches coaching – #wewanttocoach – also swept the country this week. 

 

  • Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing, of course. 

 

  • That is, until your freedom to choose interferes with someone else’s freedom to choose differently.  #WhatAMess

 

  • Some programs within affected conferences shutting things down – Air Force in the Mountain West, several in the Big 10, for instance – are considering playing in other leagues. 

 

  • If that can even be legally addressed, that will be some can o’ worms college football has opened on itself.  For now, the ACC, SEC, Big 12, AAC, CUSA and Sun Belt say they’re playing football. 

 

  • Would Michigan and say, Ohio State…join the Big 12 in order to play football?  Would their athletes be allowed to transfer to other schools in order to play? 

 

  • Tweet of the Week, from @clarencehilljr: “Nebraska has entered the transfer portal.”

 

  • Big 10 bucks ($55 million per school last year) are likely to keep them right where they are, however.  But those schools are worried about the recruiting hits they will inevitably take. 

 

  • And why isn’t there one, authoritative body to set standards for membership to follow?  Ahem, NCAA.  Care to answer that one?

 

  • Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks when it comes to medical issues as well, as each league has its’ own physicians’ board telling membership they’re good to go…or telling them to hang up their cleats. 

 

  • Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – not playing is really more about liability issues.  Schools will open up their campus petri dishes, even on a limited basis, but not allow athletes to compete?  Hello, McFly?

 

  • What about the spring?  Up against everything else (probably) going on at that time?  With the fall semester of 2021 looming in the not-so-distant future?  That’s a quick turnaround, and 20 or 21 games in a single calendar year ain’t exactly rec league flag football.

 

  • You can make the argument that’s at least as great a danger to football players as playing in our currently Covid-encrusted world.

 

  • It’s called lie-uh-bility.  And the Big 10 and Pac-12, plus a few select others (UConn, UMass hello!) want no part of it.

 

  • That, and the money, of course.  The bigger schools opting out can probably survive the oncoming financial hit.  The others?  Can’t afford to keep up with the cost of staying safe.

 

  • Nebraska’s Scott Frost and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh might have a point – the safest place for their athletes might actually be on the field – where they can receive constant monitoring and medical assistance if they need it…rather than off of it.  Or back home, even.

 

  • It’s a “mysterium tremendum,” which is what my ol’ buddy “Buddha” used to tell me about things he didn’t understand, and things that are hard to explain.

 

  • Which now begs the next question: Is college hoop paying attention to the mess college football has made for itself? 

 

  • The NCAA cancelled fall sports championships in their entirety, but FBS football is not affected.  It isn’t a surprise the Big East cancelled fall sports this week.  And that decision does not affect men’s and women’s basketball – not yet at least – nor does it affect non-affiliated sports, like hockey.

 

  • It’s just a thought right now, really.  But a few discussions have apparently taken place for a possible Big East ‘bubble,’ perhaps along with another conference or two, in case an alternative plan for launching college basketball is needed.

 

  • First things first.  Wear masks.  Stop being jerks.

 

  • Secondly, be happy you aren’t in New Zealand – which went more than 100 straight days without a single case and then four people in one family contracted the virus this week.  The country is on lockdown.  So it could be worse.

 

  • Not sure a true bubble environment, like the so-far-successful ones in the NBA, NHL and MLS, is needed. 

 

  • By the time the regular season begins to take off in November, any school that has students on campus will have dismissed them for at least two months before they return. 

 

  • Which means the athletes left behind are basically already in a ‘bubble,’ right?

 

  • A Houston-based tournament organizer is proposing two, 20-team ‘bubbles’ over a three-week period in early December, where teams would be divided into two, 10-team divisions in each and would play up to eight non-league games.  All before Jan.1 and the start of conference play.

 

  • If you’re thinking there’s a chance for college hoop to be ‘normal’ this year, consider this – officials have yet to receive their renewal contracts to work the season. CBS Sports reports they haven’t been sent out, because their conferences don’t know what to send them.

 

  • Contingencies are the name of the game right now.  Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…or perhaps regional (or conference-only) play to limit travel. 

 

  • Creative thinking and ideas may very well win the day.  But the bottom line – decision-makers are going to wait until the last, possible moment to decide what to do. 

 

  • Because things are changing, almost by the minute.  And we all want to get this right. 

 

  • But you can’t wait forever.  There’s about a billion dollars in NCAA Basketball Tournament revenue now precariously hanging in the balance.

 

  • Not to mention jobs, careers, relatively good health and things of that nature, too.  For a lot of people beyond just athletes and coaches.

 

  • Never fear…ok, maybe a little.  But keep the faith.  Former Friar coach, Bryant AD and current NCAA VP for Basketball Dan Gavitt said this week, “we are going to have a (NCAA) tournament. It’s going to be special.”

 

  • Seen three different ‘ratings’ on strengths of college conferences for the upcoming (we think) college hoop season.  The Big East trends downward on all of them – and just above the AAC and A-10 overall.

 

  • First off, for anyone to claim they ‘know’ at this stage is pure Loony Tunes.  But based on returning talent and track record, the Big 10 and Big 12 certainly look strong. 

 

  • ICYMI, the Big East was #1 in conference NET and RPI a year ago, too, and was the only league to win 80% of its’ out-of-conference games.

 

  • But for this year, nine of 10 Big Ten teams that probably would have made last year’s NCAA Tournament return at least four starters.  That’s nuts.  Good enough to be competitive in the G League.

 

  • The Big 12 returns half of its’ Top 20 scorers from last season.  The Big East returns only four of its’ Top 20 scorers.  While it’s true there will be hit in upper class talent throughout the league compared to last year…what in the past has given any indication those players won’t continue to be replaced by someone new?

 

  • Experienced, ‘older’ teams do generally have a tendency toward winning.  It’s not guaranteed, but see PC, 2019-20, as a prime example of an older team getting it together for a stretch run.

 

  • Ex-NBC college basketball writer Rob Dauster – now with his own publication “The Rebound” – puts three Big East players on his national preseason 2nd team all-American list.  Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (both Villanova). 

 

  • This is a testament to the continuing legacy of Big East basketball.  It also means the league still has a lot of talent.  The coaches recruit.  The players produce when it’s their turn.  It’s happened since 1979, and it should happen again in 2021.

 

  • We hope.

 

  • Villanova is at the top, no question.  Georgetown is on the bottom, for now.  How long will Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas stay there? 

 

  • Rate the Hoyas against other leagues’ bottom-feeders (Northwestern, Nebraska in the Big 10, Kansas State, Iowa State in the Big 12).  Poke the middle, too, for fleshiness. 

 

  • Is that where the Friars rank?  In the soft, fleshy middle of the pack?  It sez here this is where you find your true conference strength – in the middle.  What do we have in the Big East for next season – rock-hard abs or a beer gut?

 

  • One of the true legends in New England sports passed away last week, as the longtime, original “Voice of the URI Rams” Jim Norman left us at the age of 85.  Rhody fans – and even those who support the Friars as well – knew of Jim’s passion for his alma mater through his 34 years of football and basketball on-air work over the radio.

 

  • What many may have forgotten is Jim’s 22-year career as chief sports publicist at URI – also known as the “SID” (Sports Information Director), which along with his radio duty was a rare double-double in the sports publicity business – and his advocating and telling the stories of so many Rhode Island Ram athletes throughout the late 20th century, into the 21st.

 

  • The press box at Meade Stadium in Kingston is named in his honor.

 

  • I’m privileged to have known Jim, worked down the table and across the booth from him before his retirement, and been a part of the group rightfully electing Jim to the Rhode Island Radio and Television Hall of Fame. 

 

  • God speed, Jim.  For many, you were URI, and that’s quite the legacy.

 

  • It’s about time someone decided to enforce repercussions for not following ‘protocol.’  Or in this case, following reasonable adult behavior.  Louisville kicked three soccer players off its team for organizing a party that was believed to be the source of several Covid-19 cases.

 

  • Now, if I could just figure out a way to kick my neighbors’ Covid parties to the curb…

 

  • As the NFL pushes on toward its season, the college decisions being made to not play will only hurt some – and help others when it comes to scouting players.  After all, you can’t scout someone who isn’t playing.

 

  • Expect some on the affected teams and leagues to either transfer or leave early for a professional opportunity.  Those who sit, get left behind…whether fair or not.

 

  • Normally, the first Patriots’ padded practice of the preseason is a big, big deal.  But when it takes place this week, Covid protocols have choked down the number of media allowed to watch, and there will be no fans attending.  

 

  • Right now, we’ll still be lucky to get in any kind of a season.  So I’ll take that over the alternative. 

 

  • Is it safe?  Will we be safe?  Will the players and coaches be safe?  We just don’t know with 100% certainty.  But we all know regardless – life goes on, with 100% certainty, anyway.

 

  • Doesn’t mean the colleges aren’t doing the right thing.  To each his/her own.  We can all read, we can all listen to prescriptions and protocols, interpret what they mean, and we argue their relative merits. 

 

  • But in the end, we all make our own decisions based on our understanding of information – within what the laws allow.  Or face the consequences of those decisions.  Often, we’re victims of our own free society.

 

  • And Patriots’ Hall of Famer Matt Light did himself no favors this week by eschewing mask wearing on The Greg Hill Show.  His disdain for mask-wearing, claiming they ‘have no real effect,’ directly contradicts ever-changing-but-scientific evidence.

 

  • Matt, at this particular time you’re either a part of a solution or not.  Which are you?

 

  • I get not wanting to blindly follow advice just because someone says it’s true.  But if you’re not part of this solution, perhaps you should rethink your comments at a time when so many people don’t – or can’t – understand what the hell is going on.

 

  • Are the Celtics really as good as they look?  Or is the NBA’s bubble-world leveling the playing floor for everyone?  Could be a little of both, but if you can shoot it this year, you can win it.

 

  • Mike Gorman tweeted out this week he visited with Tommy Heinsohn, checking in on his health issues.  Gorman reports Tommy is battling, but that he’s more concerned over the Grizzlies than anything else.  And that some refs should be left behind in the bubble.

 

  • Felt a little like the real deal for a moment when Rhode Island’s Todd Angilly sang the national anthem in Toronto before the Bruins and Hurricanes opened up Wednesday morning.

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but Tuesday night was the most-watched opening night for the NHL Playoffs on record, sez NBC.

 

  • Tuukka, if you need the fans to pump you up for the playoffs, you need a seat on the bench.

 

  • We should know more about the bubblicious nature of playing sports these days real soon, as MLS ventures out of its’ bubble in Orlando and returns to home-and-away play. 

 

  • Zero positives for MLS, NWSL and the PLL (lacrosse) while playing in ‘bubbles.’  Zero positives for the NBA since July 13, zero in the NHL since July 26, zero for the WNBA since July 6th.

 

  • If Bennie No-Biceps and J.D. ‘No Video’ Martinez decide to finally show up and play this season, could the Sox still make a run at baseball’s expanded postseason?  Right now, I’m not sure Boston was this bad when they finished last under Bobby Valentine in 2012.

 

  • Way to get that budget under control, Mr. Henry.

 

  • The A’s and Astros fight this past week, at any other time in the past two or three decades, would have been a major story.  Especially in light of everyone seeking retribution, it seems, against Houston’s cheating.

 

  • Today?  Next.  20-game suspension for Alex Cintron, the longest in 15 years?  Meh.  Very little amazes me anymore.

 

  • Except for the Red Sox’ apparent disdain for timely, crisp, orderly play.  Nine inning games lasting four hours and 24 minutes?  No thanks.  Baseball has a real problem, and the Red Sox are only exacerbating it.

 

  • My buddy “Big E” sez he watched a woman get on his train recently and start looking around.  He got up from his seat.  He told me “she had to be thinking to herself, ‘Here’s another man trying to keep up the customs of a patriarchal society by offering a poor, defenseless woman his seat.’”  Because she pushed him back onto the seat.

 

  • A few minutes later, he tried to get up again. Again, apparently still insulted she refused to let him up.  Finally, ‘Big E’ sez, “Look, ma’am, you’ve got to let me get up. I’m two stops past my regular stop already.”

 

  • Golf.com bestowed a nice honor on one of our own this past week – Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence was named as one of 14 must-play muny’s in America.  Right up there with Bethpage Black in New York and TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, where last week’s PGA Championship was held.

 

  • And while we’re at it, kudos to PGA champ Collin Morikawa, who won the Northeast Amateur at Rumford’s Wannamoisett Country Club just three years ago. 

 

  • Man, they grow up quickly, don’t they?  It’s a ‘mysterium tremendum.’

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

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