Big Ten Cave$, Pac-12 Ponders
Well, that didn’t take long.
Last Wednesday, after only one full week of the truncated 2020 college football season, the Big Ten decided it couldn’t sit idly by and watch the SEC, Big 12 and ACC play games, attract viewers, gain exposure and, most importantly, collect those big TV rights fees.
As someone much more clever than me said over the weekend, “the Big Ten couldn’t afford to be socially distanced from its TV revenue.” Especially when three other conferences were raking it in.
Five weeks earlier, the conference had decided to postpone the fall season, with the expectation of playing in early 2021, due to concerns about the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic and evidence that athletes who contracted the virus were vulnerable to serious heart problems.
That sparked an outcry from players, parents, fans, media, and athletic directors, all of whom simply couldn’t imagine life without football, as well as a certain orange-haired fellow seeking votes in four Big Ten states (Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania).
So, embattled new commissioner Kevin Warren and the 14 presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten schools caved. Play will commence Oct. 24 and teams will play eight regular season games plus a full schedule (including the conference championship and consolation games) on Dec. 19, the day before College Football Playoff selections.
Never mind that the virus rages throughout Big Ten country and continues to kill approximately 1,000 Americans a day. Never mind that those potential heart issues still threaten. Never mind that 75 Texas Tech players and most of the LSU team have tested positive. Never mind that numerous games have already been cancelled, with more to come.
And never mind that in many of the Big Ten schools, conditions aren’t deemed safe enough to allow students on campus.
But they are apparently safe enough to play football.
It’s not a flattering picture for higher education that college presidents who originally were unwilling to put their athletes at risk were browbeaten into changing their minds to appease fans, players, parents and politicians and, perhaps most disturbingly, to collect TV dollars.
Never has the term “student-athlete” been exposed as a bigger fraud.
Will Pac-12 Be Next? While the Big Ten publicly played out its drama and moved toward the inevitable reversal of its earlier decision to postpone the season, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was asleep at the switch.
After announcing with typical fanfare that the conference had secured early testing technology that was a “game changer,” he didn’t take any of the necessary steps to prepare for a possible return.
Suddenly, the Pac-12 was alone on the “not playing this fall” island. After an embarrassing tete a tete with California Governor Gavin Newsom—in which Scott claimed state guidelines would preclude the conference from playing and Newsom quickly responded that “nothing in state guidelines denies the ability for the Pac-12 to resume,” Scott promised to “push the envelope” to get the season going.
Now that everyone else is on board, the league really has no other choice. Pac-12 teams already face an annual revenue gap of $10 to $20 million per school with the other Power Five conferences. Adding another delta of $30 to $40M this year (if the other four leagues play and the Pac-12 doesn't) might make the gap insurmountable and relegate the Pac-12 to second tier status for the foreseeable future. (Although some might argue it’s already second tier).
So Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will vote this Thursday, and unless hell freezes over between now and then, they will vote to start the season on or around Oct. 31.
Frankly, I’d respect them a lot more if they announced something along the lines of: “We’re sticking to our guns. It’s not safe to play football right now. We continue to be concerned about exposing our ‘student-athletes’ to unnecessary risk, and we’re holding off until we are convinced we can resume play safely.”
Wouldn’t that be a refreshing turnabout?
Coaches Unhappy: According to the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, a number of Pac-12 coaches are not thrilled with the league’s handling of the coronavirus, or the prospect of starting in late October.
“If you try and rush them back before they’ve had enough time to get in shape to actually play football, you’re saying health and safety actually doesn’t matter,” said one conference head coach.
“I don’t want to hear ‘health and wellness’ out of anybody’s mouth,” said another. “It’s not f***ing ping pong. You don’t just open the garage door and go play…Our nose is so far up the Big Ten’s ass. Let’s just do what’s best for the Pac-12.”
And still another: “I thought a start date of Dec. 5 was pushing it. It’s a one-off year. Let’s do what’s right for our kids and the conference. We’re gonna take a lump. Let’s not take two lumps.”
The natives are restless.