As we wait for the final document memorializing the agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association on the parameters of pro football in a pandemic, it will be interesting to see whether the league has secured advance permission from the union to move several of the Sunday games to Saturdays.
It’s a subject on which the NFL needs to be keeping an eye, given the possibility that college football simply won’t be able to pull it off this year.
The latest piece of evidence that raises a red flag comes from the news that Rutgers shut down all in-person football activities and quarantined the entire team after six more positive COVID-19 results were announced on Saturday. The team has had 10 total positive tests since June 15.
The Rutgers shutdown comes a day after Michigan State decided to quarantine or self-isolate the football team after a second staff member and a player tested positive.
Several schools and conferences have decided not to play at all in 2020. The Power Five conferences continue to hold out hope for, at a minimum, a conference-only campaign.
It won’t be easy. Apart from the fact that the players are younger and far less inclined or able to shut down their lives away from the football facility (at a minimum, they’ll presumably be going to class), the fact that they don’t get paid makes it much harder to justify commandeering their lives from August through November or, if bowl games happen, December and into early January.
Look at the list of the things pro football players, through their union, have agreed to not do. Can highly-paid college football programs legitimately impose such limitations on unpaid college football players?
Then there’s the issue of supply and demand. At the professional level, there’s an endless supply of capable athletes. Indeed, 33 years ago the NFL found 28 rosters of replacements in basically a week after the regular players went on strike.
At the FBS level, only 85 players have scholarships. Next come the walk-ons, a limited supply of players not deemed to be good enough to get any value at all for what they do. After that, it’s time to pull students out of the stands and/or slap a helmet onto anyone they can find.
Another factor making an outbreak more likely for college programs is the fact that college programs likely won’t be testing with the same frequency and diligence of NFL teams. If they try, it will be expensive — and it will create questions about the ethics of gobbling up testing resources in areas that are struggling to test local citizens.
They will still try to pull it off at the college level. There’s too much money at stake, especially for the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12. But there are several fundamental differences between the NFL and college football, and those differences will become more obvious and pronounced if/when college football tries to push forward.