Minnesota and Wisconsin canceled their football game scheduled for Saturday in Madison.
On Wednesday, the Gophers men’s basketball team is scheduled to play its first game of a season that, if the season is played to its scheduled conclusion, will result in an NCAA tournament contained inside a large bubble in Indianapolis.
Since the virus became a widespread concern earlier this year, we have seen all manner of sporting approaches to playing during a pandemic.
The WNBA and NBA played in bubbles in Florida — bubbles so well-maintained that even Florida Man couldn’t stumble in to ruin their seasons.
The NHL played in bubbles in Canada, running screaming from proposals to play in cities such as Las Vegas or Los Angeles because America has failed every common-sense test regarding COVID-19.
Basketball and hockey provided ideal models. Baseball played a regular season relying on the common sense of its players and employees and, after many notable outbreaks, completed the regular season and then completed its postseason in bubbles, with few incidents until the Dodgers’ Justin Turner decided to return to the field after testing positive during the final game of the World Series.
It’s a team game. If one player gets the virus, why shouldn’t they all share it?
The NFL has postponed games and remains vulnerable to breakouts. Most likely, Thursday’s game between the Steelers and Ravens will have to be postponed after the Ravens reported a handful of new positive tests.
The prediction here, once the virus changed American lives, was that college football would have the most trouble navigating the protocols and challenges of a sports season played under these circumstances.
College football features massive rosters and support staffs. The players live amid college students, meaning they are subject to not just crowds, but crowds of young people who may feel their demographic won’t be harmed by the virus. The players themselves are more likely than the average human to believe they are immune.
College football features egomaniac coaches, some of whom, such as Clemson coaching neanderthal Dabo Swinney, seem to think you can out-macho the virus. “If you can tackle a dad-gum 250-pound running back, are you gonna let a little bug knock you out?” is what I hear every time Swinney speaks.
So am I surprised to see the Gophers-Badgers game canceled?
No, I’m surprised the Gophers have managed to get through five games.
The risk is not going to dissipate at any time this season, and the brunt of the risk in college football is borne by a bunch of postadolescent men who have little power or influence and no earning power.
We all knew that the NFL was going to play its season come hell or high testing rates. The NFL always has cared more about money than player safety, and the players not only have the power to opt out, they have their rights collectively bargained.
They’re grown men. They have a voice. They receive a paycheck. None of which makes playing football in a pandemic particularly intelligent, but they can make their own choices.
College football players do not have collective bargaining power and are not being paid, and many of them see playing in the minor league known as college football as their best avenue to gainful employment and a better life.
Even if they comprehend the risks, they might be willing to take them.
I don’t know if college basketball can be played safely, but at least the rosters and staffs are small enough that self-discipline and common sense could keep the sport alive.
College football was always going to be the sporting equivalent of a super spreader event, run by coaches who may or may not believe in science.
Wisconsin’s third football cancellation means the Badgers probably won’t be eligible to play in the Big Ten championship game.
The Gophers are 2-3 with one cancellation, with two regular-season games remaining.
A month from now, will either university feel good about its decision to go ahead with college football, given the obvious risks and limited chance of reaping true rewards?
But coaches such as Swinney will be happy that their young men built so much character by showing that dadgum virus who’s boss.