Where have you gone college football?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes — and shaky bank accounts — to you.
Hey, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. All you Alabama linebackers, Oklahoma wide receivers and fellow major college players.
We’re not asking much during this coronavirus outbreak.
Just that you get back to campus next week for NCAA-allowed voluntary workouts (“voluntary” as in my wife demands I volunteer to mow the lawn).
And, please, in no particular order …
• Save athletic department budgets at your schools by funding almost every non-revenue sport.
• Help boost enrollment, prestige and morale at America’s colleges, most of which were having cash-flow problems before the coronavirus.
• Make sure all those local businesses that depend on college football don’t go under.
• Save multiple TV networks from a financial fall this fall.
• Throw bones to college football-specific, sports talk and other media looking for action, quotes, drama and live video.
• Treat fan anxiety from Seattle to Coral Gables.
Of course, it’s been like this as long for as any living human can recall, our over-dependence on the gridiron, the “absurd importance attached to athletic (college) sports.”
That observation came way before the pandemic.
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
It’s part of a student essay in “College Readings in English Prose” written by University of Illinois professors Franklin Scott and Jacob Zeitlin in 1914.
But, more than ever, the concept of unpaid athlete-students playing for millionaire coaches and compensated with non-negotiable scholarship contracts is exposed these days as perhaps the most one-sided deal in sports labor/management history.
More than NFL, NBA, MLB
This isn’t saying college football players about to begin workouts with the aim of starting the 2020 season approximately on time is a bad idea; this isn’t about that. They are not the only ones sacrificing or taking risks here.
Not any more than fry cooks, stay-at-home parents watching neighbor kids along with their own, product stockers, store clerks and sanitation engineers. All of whom take a back seat to healthcare workers and others on the front line in this war.
And yet if we weren’t sure college football players stir the sports business drink, we are getting a great lesson on limited supply and pent-up demand.
Those NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball guys?
The WNBA women, golfers, tennis players, race car drivers?
College basketball, baseball and soccer players?
They’re not asked to carry other sports on their backs through offseason drills, spring practice, “voluntary” workouts and a long autumn that for some lucky squads bleeds into almost mid-January.
“Never in the field of human conflict,” the great British leader Winston Churchill said of Royal Air Force success in World War II against the Nazis, “was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Never in the field of sports economics has so much money been on the line for so many leaning on such a finite supply of amateur athletes. Yes, sports/war analogies are usually inappropriate, except maybe when lives might be on the line.
Charles Barkley, Dr. Fauci
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart are among those insisting players are safer in campus football buildings than spread out at their homes.
Still, Michael Rubin, co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, this week went into an area most other team leaders are conspicuously avoiding: positive coronavirus tests are probably coming to your favorite team, folks, so get ready.
“Realistically speaking, it’s not practical to think that athletes aren’t going to get corona if you’re playing sports again because I just think if you have thousands of people playing, that’s going to happen,” Rubin told CNBC’s Becky Quick. “… Certain people are going to get it and how do you deal with it and how do you get those people safely quarantined while the rest of the team is still (playing)?”
Sports can be part of a grand reopening if health officials deem quarantine and treatment plans safe. That’s relative, of course, in a world without a vaccine or reliable treatment drug. But as Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top experts say, the health cost of the coronavirus also includes a shutdown that invites mental illness, domestic violence, suicide and other factors that must be considered.
These are bizarrely tough times when we really don't know what to do, and when Depression-era unemployment immediately follows a booming economy featuring unprecedented employment across the board.
Elsewhere, let’s not kid ourselves. There are lots of people having a good ‘ol time.
Working from home.
Enjoying $1,200 government checks they don’t really need.
Feasting on yummy contactless delivery food discounted.
And waiting for college football to fit right in with a market that hopefully keeps improving.
The clear tilt toward some kind of football season — and probably with ticket sales — is timely. Because, as basketball legend Charles Barkley told radio show host Paul Finebaum, “These small towns who rely on college football throughout the year, they are going to be devastated if there are no fans in the stands.”
Don’t worry, Chuck.
Players are riding to the rescue in exchange for merely tuition, room, board, a few thousand dollars in cost-of-attendance cash and applause.
Just make sure to wear a mask for coronavirus safety purposes as we unmask the role of our helmeted saviors.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.