Here’s a tip of the football helmet to David Benedict, athletic director at the University of Connecticut and the officials at the Mid-American Conference who decided in this age of COVID-19, that it might not be a great idea to have student athletes engaging in blocking and tackling, the basic ingredients of football.
UConn became the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to cancel its fall football season, a courageous act by Benedict, and the MAC Conference followed his lead shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, the college football heavyweights who live in the Power Five conferences dithered around, perhaps waiting for the coronavirus to pack its bags and look for some other planet to infiltrate.
Good luck with that.
Benedict stepped up after the Ivy League and several other smaller unaffiliated schools decided to take a pass on the season. In a statement he said, `The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk. The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team.’’
Shortly after UConn’s decision, the MAC decided that was a pretty good idea. Its schools will never be confused with the powerhouses that make college football an annual autumn ritual in America. But the conference is among the 10 competing in the NCAA’s highest level of football and it became the first to recognize the reality of the public health crisis sweeping the country and pulled out of the season.
At about the same time as the MAC shut things down, the Big Ten announced its own dramatic step, banning full contact football practices until further notice. All players will be restricted to wearing helmets during the first two days of practice.
The conference promised to continue monitoring developments and consulting with medical experts to evaluate the safety situation going forward.
In other words, stay tuned. And by the way, the Big Ten season begins Sept. 5, a scant three weeks away.
At stake is a ton of broadcast money that helps fund college athletic programs. Swimming and track, tennis and golf depend on income generated by football and basketball. The NCAA took a multi-million dollar hit when it was forced to cancel the post-season basketball tournament last spring because of the virus. That’s why most conferences are tip-toeing through the current minefield of disease.
For their courage in making their decision, UConn and the MAC Conference deserve special praise. It is something the football goliath National Football League might think about after 90 of its players opted out of the season it swears it is going to play.