If you stayed up on a Sunday night, you probably saw the beginnings of what may end up becoming the death rattle for college football as we know it.
When word started leaking out over the weekend that the Power Five conferences were all going to shutter the sport for the fall season, everything exploded. No real information got out. Rumor. Deceit. Everywhere. After the MAC canceled its season on Friday, we heard that P5 athletic directors, presidents, and chancellors had gotten together and were going to up and cancel the season for the rest of the country as well.
Yesterday morning, that gained momentum, with some saying that the Big Ten and PAC-12 would be canceling as early as Tuesday. Spoiler alert: it happened today for the Midwesterners.
What might have been a meek exit into a blurry and continuing offseason turned upside down last night when Trevor Lawrence, maybe the nation’s most notable player and surefire top pick in the next NFL Draft, took to Twitter.
People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19 (1)— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 9, 2020
After his reasoning on why he’d like to play college football this year, we got this at midnight Eastern time.
#WeWantToPlay pic.twitter.com/jvQhE7noGB— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 10, 2020
It began as the nation’s most valuable player expressing his personal thoughts, but before the clock turned to Monday, it had become a full-blown grassroots players union. The hashtag #WeWantToPlay scattered across Twitter from notable players like Justin Fields and Chuba Hubbard, not to mention many others in leagues threatening to cancel.
The reasons for wanting to play aren’t dumb. They’re not dangerous. Many schools touting the danger of playing college football are sending students back for in-person learning. It’s no more of a risk to play football than it is to sit in a classroom or live in a dorm. The athletes would be in better hands than your average students, too. Testing multiple times a week, days before games, and having less time to get out into the world where you could contract the virus.
That’s not to say that the players should be forced to step onto the field. Auburn’s already had two holdouts for the 2020 season (if it happens) in Chandler Wooten and Traivon Leonard. I don’t fault either one. Wooten’s got a child on the way, and Leonard had the virus already. In this totally oddball situation, administrators are finally having to give way to what the players want.
You notice that nobody talked about canceling football ahead of players reporting for summer camps and workouts. You notice that the first time an athlete came back to the team and tested positive for the virus, administrators didn’t quake with fear and call for a blanket ban on the sport this year. It was only when whispers of player unity came about that things got serious. Let’s not make the mistake of believing that player safety is the number one issue at stake here. We’re moving closer and closer to a non-amateur sport, where players have more power than ever. The NIL legislation that’s been passed in many states recently speaks to that. Top-flight players would be able to make millions in college by selling their name, or endorsing a product (what I would have given to see Kerryon Johnson endorse the Magnolia Street Chick Fila), and their profitability won’t just be owned by the school anymore.
The repercussions of that avenue haven’t really been discussed much in a public forum yet, but eventually players would be made employees. They’d be able to be fired for underperformance. You know how a kicker in the NFL loses his job for missing a couple field goals in a game? Get ready for Alabama to have a revolving door of new guys coming in to try and reverse the goalpost voodoo that Nick Saban’s enacted.
Still, it would be right for the players to be able to do these things. Every other student can profit off of their image while in school. Why can’t athletes?
That’s a bit of a ramble on the road we’re going down based on last night, but let’s get back to fact. The Big Ten has canceled football for the fall. It was a 12-2 vote with Nebraska and Iowa standing as dissenting opinions. No word yet from the PAC-12, but the Big 12, ACC, and SEC are all still wanting to play. You can bet that the SEC will be the absolute last one to cancel, and honestly, they don’t have to lean on anything that the other conferences are doing in the slightest. When the rest of the leagues postpone, the SEC’s product becomes more valuable. You’ve already got players on campus. You’ve already got support from the players to play. It’s not wild to think that the old Jefferson Pilot game of the week between Kentucky and Vanderbilt at 11 AM draws millions of viewers in this situation.
Imagine what happens when LSU and Alabama play, or when the Iron Bowl rolls around. On network television? It’s the highest watched football game of all time.
But what if the SEC follows suit?
Well, we have absolutely no way of knowing the particulars in a deal like this, but here are possible repercussions for Auburn:
- Assuming they just call the season a wash and pick up in 2021 instead of just delaying it, would we somehow skip going to Tuscaloosa and Athens?
Georgia’s going to have a generational defense and a ton of young talent on offense, and we just can’t make it happen in Athens. Alabama’s looking for revenge after last year, and while they lost a bunch as well, they’ll just reload. Not looking forward to heading there either. If the season got canned, both of those teams would have so many guys bolt for the NFL Draft and neither school would see a single bit of return off of them. Auburn’s not going to have the same problem at the same level.
- When we return to the field in 2021, Gus Malzahn may (with some unknowns hanging in the balance) have his favorable odd-year schedule and a sophomore but really junior quarterback in Bo Nix, as well as an offensive line that’s practiced together for more than a year. If, somehow, we get no early departures to the league, then we’re a title contender off the top.
- Looking at the hardwood, Bruce Pearl would have an absolutely loaded 2021-2022 roster. My goodness. Imagine the last couple of signing classes with no wear and tear. This season, Alabama might actually have a good team with the return of some of their dudes. Not having to deal with that isn’t the worst thing in the world.
- HOWEVER, if they play football in the SEC, it’s going to be the most-watched season of all time. I don’t believe the SEC schools have said much in the way of number of fans allowed in the stadiums, but to be safe they may go crowd-less. You’ll have 20 million viewers for the CBS game of the week every Saturday, and it would approach national championship numbers for the big ones. Auburn-Georgia, Iron Bowl, Auburn-LSU, Cocktail Party, Alabama-LSU, Alabama-Georgia. The thing is, it wouldn’t matter. If nobody else is playing football, then we’re going to just get ten games with as many asterisks as the record books will hold. There won’t be a national champion, there won’t be a trophy at the end, it’s just going to be football. It’s gravy, house money.
This whole operation has the potential to be the dumbest endeavor ever, but doing dumb stuff is what makes college football great.