Iowa Football

Big Ten football won't go quietly ... for now

It's a long way until September, but also the blink of an eye

Iowa State and Iowa football players won't be competing against each other in 2020 as they were here in ISU's Jack Trice
Iowa State and Iowa football players won’t be competing against each other in 2020 as they were here in ISU’s Jack Trice Stadium last Sept. 14. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A 10-game Big Ten football season always seemed like a good idea to many of us who didn’t have to play the games but preferred watching better competition.

We sure didn’t want it this way, though. Not when it means a 10-game season, period. Not when it means five home games instead of seven. Not when it means losing the Iowa State-Iowa game for a year.

Especially not when it means still facing the moral quandaries about whether we should even consider having college football in 2020, which is nothing resembling a certainty.

You hear the argument about young athletes being the fittest among us and least susceptible to consequences from COVID-19. But the possible long-term effects of the virus don’t sound very minor, and if any college athletes die from the virus because of his or her sport …

Then you remember there are head injuries and mangled body parts week after week and year after year in football, and you know there is a Faustian bargain most players and observers have managed to accept.

The healthiest, sanest reaction probably would be to say every college conference should follow the example of the Ivy League and just call off sports for the rest of 2020.

That’s a hard plug to pull for a collection of many of the nation’s top universities known as the Big Ten Conference. It showed as much Thursday when it announced it was going conference-only for fall sports this year.

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The league won’t give up on this season until it must. You know the reason. It has a dollar sign followed by a lot of digits.

The fates of so many college athletic programs hang in the balance of football happening. Without football, a lot of dominoes fall. With it, though, the 18- to 22-year-old players who already put their bodies at risk each week add a significant load to their risk factor.

It’s easy to answer the question of how college football keeps COVID-19 totally at bay: It doesn’t.

“We’ve created a really good bubble within our football team,” Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell said in a conference with reporters Thursday. “Number one, there’s got to be a loyalty to that bubble. And those are decisions that they make outside of our walls.”

Those bubbles aren’t airtight, though, especially on a college campus once the student body returns. If it returns.

Ultimately, this will hasten a transformation of college athletics many felt would eventually happen. A lot of teams will be dropped, as 11 were last week at Stanford.

Mid-majors and lower-division programs will reevaluate their futures in athletics. Even a slightly shorter 2020 season has huge ramifications. It’s a gut punch to Northern Iowa, which had been scheduled to open its football season at Iowa and collect $650,000 for doing so.

Not having an Iowa State-Iowa game isn’t too wonderful, either. Although, a one-year hiatus may not be the worst thing after all the hard feelings from last year’s game.

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Of course, this is still the first half of July. It’s a long way to getting any kind of season off the ground in September. It’s also the blink of an eye.

This week, four of the five worst coronavirus epicenters in the world were U.S. states, which doesn’t do much to assure you this thing will get under control anytime soon. It’s depressing and infuriating. Ignoring or denying science comes with a hard, hard price, and our tab just continues to grow.

Hey, Disney World just reopened in Orlando. The Most Magical Place on Earth, it calls itself. Just saying things doesn’t make them true. But it’s fun to pretend.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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