We knew this would be messy and disjointed and probably make some people uncomfortable, if not disgusted.

We knew the possibility existed — more inevitable than probable — that games would be impacted, postponed or canceled once college football decided it was Game On.

The Gophers found themselves smack dab in the middle of that chaos Friday night. They took the field without 20-something players and three staff members, not all because of COVID-19 but enough to make national headlines and add fuel to the discussion about whether college football is making a mistake by trying to forge ahead during a pandemic.

For the record, the Gophers overcame being shorthanded to defeat Purdue 34-31 at TCF Bank Stadium thanks to a highly questionable pass interference call that negated a Boilermakers touchdown in the final minute.

The controversial finish overshadowed the main topic pregame.

The Gophers didn’t officially announce who or why individual players didn’t participate, only that 22 players did not suit up, leaving them with only 61 scholarship players available.

To reiterate, not all were because of COVID-19 positives. Some players were injured. The school does not provide specifics when players miss games.

But hearing that news — 20 players sidelined — is jolting and impossible to simply brush aside as, oh well, that’s just 2020.

And yet … I still support playing the game. I support giving this season a shot, knowing it is chaotic and not guaranteed to reach the finish line.

Is this worth it?

That answer is both complicated and personal.

If you believe yes, the other side will call you an idiot.

If you believe no, the other side will call you an idiot.

If you are conflicted, you probably have a lot of company.

I don’t know that anyone is right or wrong in how they feel about this. COVID cases are rising, states are returning to lockdown, schools are shifting back to distance learning and college football marches on with weekly disruption.

Seventeen games scheduled for this weekend have been postponed or canceled. That number was 15 last week, 10 the week before that. More will follow.

At times, it feels like the sport is hanging by a thread.

One positive COVID-19 test is enough to force NFL teams into the league’s strictest protocol. College teams can have a numerous cases and plow right ahead.

Is that foolish? Dangerous?

This is what we wanted, a football season, fully aware that it will not be perfect.

Players and coaches begged to play. Fans pleaded for a season. Media members, myself included, voiced support for conferences to give the green light.

Let’s not kid ourselves about what is the driving force behind this pursuit. Athletic departments depend on football money for survival.

Without football TV revenue, athletic departments that are already staring at massive financial shortfalls would face even more dire circumstances.

The availability of rapid antigen tests for coaches, players and support staff swayed my opinion on conducting a season. Daily testing with immediate results helps prevent spread and aids contact tracing. It’s not foolproof, but that level of monitoring assuages some concerns.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has said repeatedly that his perception of this season hasn’t changed, that it still counts and that results on the field matter. While true, an asterisk should be attached to it. This is a real season, just not a normal one, because so much is out of everyone’s control.

“It challenges you,” Fleck said. “It does everything it can to test your patience. It tests your commitment to the process. It tests your nerves. It tests your anxiety. It tests your culture. It tests everything that you are as a coach and a man because it is minute by minute.”

Fleck and his players were able to celebrate in the locker room Friday night. The joy in being able to compete, to feel normal in an abnormal time, to do something they love despite difficult circumstances, well, they deserved that moment.

 

chip.scoggins@startribune.com