The chain reaction of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news Wednesday went something like this:
Stanford cut 11 sports.
Then the Baltimore Ravens cut their stadium capacity for the 2020 season 80%.
Then the Ivy League canceled its fall athletics season.
Then Ohio State and North Carolina halted athletic workouts due to COVID-19 outbreaks in their programs.
You know how we in sports tend to see things in terms of winners and losers? Well, reality won Wednesday. Reality won big.
The disheartening news cycle reinforced was how hard having sports in this country is going to be. In Stanford’s case, it reinforced how hard not having sports has been.
These are things we knew before Wednesday. But gracious, what a wake-up call.
I thought we might take each development, measure its impact and apply it closer to home. See if any hints were dropped or what dominoes might fall ...
Heartbreak at Stanford
Among the sports the Cardinal will eliminate after the 2020-21 academic year: fencing, co-ed sailing, synchronized swimming and squash. Goes to show how good Stanford had it to be able to offer 36 sports — 36! — before the pandemic hit.
It will continue to offer 25. That makes for a robust athletic department still.
And yet for a university with Stanford’s resources and the Cardinal’s sterling athletic department reputation to lop off one-third of its sports ... Wow.
If you’re snickering about squash, you might realize wrestling and men’s volleyball bit the dust, too. Honestly, just stop snickering. Instead, read this passage from Stanford’s letter announcing the cuts:
“This is heartbreaking news to share. These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches.”
You’ll bow your heads for players and coaches at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa if those three schools can’t play football this fall. You should keep a positive thought for TU and Oral Roberts’ athletic health regardless of football’s status, the financial challenges in both departments being so steep even before the pandemic.
Back to Stanford’s letter: “We now face the reality that significant change is needed to create fiscal stability for Stanford Athletics.”
Fiscal stability is in question in college athletic departments everywhere. It has been since sports stopped four months ago.
That’s about when athletic directors started working 23-hour days.
If nothing else, Stanford’s bombshell is a reminder to send Joe Castiglione, Mike Holder, Derrick Gragg and Mike Carter cookie bouquets, fruit baskets or simply thoughts and prayers.
Ravens trim their flock
We have college football around here, not pro, but the Ravens’ announcement strikes hard just the same.
NFL franchises have a blood lust for revenue. Just look at how much the Chiefs now pay Patrick Mahomes.
And yet here’s an organization saying it can’t seat more than 14,000 fans in a stadium that holds around 71,000. It’s only capable of taking so much of fans’ money.
That’s the reality of public safety trouncing the reality of revenue needs. That’s a reality that should carry straight over to college football attendance.
Players’ situations in college vs. pro football are made different by two things — NFL guys are under contract, and NFL guys are represented by a players’ union.
Fans’ situations? No different. That’s the general public attending NFL games and attending college ones.
If an NFL franchise deems home games unsafe for more than a stadium that is one-fifth full, it shouldn’t be hard for NCAA athletic departments to follow suit.
Put another way: If you are fortunate enough to get into an OU or OSU football game this fall, you’ll have plenty of room to spread out. Because that’s the way it must be during a pandemic.
No football for the Ivy League
No fall sports, period, actually. And no determination whether winter or spring sports will happen in the Ivy, meaning they haven’t determined whether a spring football season is feasible.
Ivy League members, of course, play FCS football. They don’t play in the FCS postseason.
So why should this news resonate with OU, OSU or TU fans? Because the document announcing the Ivy League’s cancellations was signed by Ivy League’s presidents, not its athletic directors and coaches.
If football teams in the Big 12, AAC and Ivy League don’t play alike, university presidents everywhere tend to think alike.
Or rather, university presidents want to think like Ivy Leaguers do.
Here’s how Christine Brennan put it in USA Today: “We tend to focus on athletic directors and coaches when talking about college sports. But college presidents are always an integral part of those conversations, and many of those presidents not only revere the Ivy League, they trace their roots back to it.”
I know university presidents at Big 12 and AAC schools have different economic considerations than their Ivy League brethren. They have athletic departments with vastly different economic considerations.
But aren’t they all in it for the welfare of their students? The welfare of their student-athletes?
Assuming that is true, what happened in the Ivy League Wednesday carries more weight than you might imagine.
Buckeyes, Tar Heels on hold
I feel terrible admitting this, but I’m so used to news of coronavirus outbreaks in college towns, and within college athletics programs, that I wasn’t too startled by Ohio State and North Carolina’s news. I just expect it by now. Awful, I know.
I have conditioned myself to follow recoveries as closely as outbreaks. For instance, when Oklahoma State announced recently that 14 football players had tested positive for COVID-19, the number of ongoing cases OSU reported — 1 — was just as useful to me.
That reinforced the fact that testing and treatment are college athletics’ only path forward.
Ohio State and North Carolina tested. Now they are treating it.
Let’s see how that goes, and when the Buckeyes and Tar Heels are cleared to resume workouts.
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