Moving the goal line?

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For months Alabama football fans have been expecting an announcement about whether the Crimson Tide football team would be storming out on the gridiron in 2020. Because of the logistics of running a football program it was thought that a decision would be made by mid-July. It was estimated that it would take at least six weeks of preparation before the first game was played.

As the toll from the Coronavirus epidemic increased, many people were hoping that the season would be postponed for a year. Fans had mixed emotions according to Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande. He wrote about John Wills who was not planning on going to games after his wife had been hospitalized for two weeks after coaching Million Dollar Band Crimsonettes at a twirling competition in Ohio.

It was not until the end of July that there was a hint about any plans for the University of Alabama‘s football team. On July 29th an article by Cecil Hurt in the Tuscaloosa News reported on an email that had been sent by the University’s Director of Athletics Greg Byrne. Although the actual schedule had not been finalized, he informed season ticket holders and members of Tide Pride about the possibility of a “modified seating model.” He said that “those affected will have the option to elect a complete or partial refund of Tide Pride contributions and ticket purchases.”

The University of Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte recently told Longhorn fans that its stadium capacity would be at 50%. Similar plans were being made at the University of Houston. The University of Michigan anticipates having reduced crowds in the stadium. Ohio State‘s Athletic Director Gene Smith, as far back as in May, said that the Buckeyes might be playing before a stadium that was only about 30% full. At one time schools on the West Coast were actually contemplating canceling their seasons.

According to NCCA-FB‘s Dennis Dodd, the NCAA 2020 college football season was hanging in the balance due to uncertainties about the NCAA’s minimum testing requirements. Dodd wrote:

“Where is the panic button?” asked Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at the UAB School of Medicine. “Where is the number of positive tests that makes the administration say, ‘OK we’ve got to cancel this week’s game?'”

There was an article in the Washington Post “On a call with SEC leaders, worried players pushed back: ‘It’s not good enough.'” by Robert Klemko and Emily Giambalvo. They reported on the concerns of players about reopening “a multibillion dollar industry afloat amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.” They quoted an unidentified SEC spokesman who said, “We’re going to have cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”

Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman addressed the complexities of playing football in the Southeastern Conference during a pandemic:

SEC presidents voted to scrap non-conference games on Thursday, but add two to everyone’s league slates. It feels a lot like a Hail Mary amid a hail storm. Pushing the season back three weeks to buy time is a great plan, and I’m hopeful that the number of coronavirus cases in the South will drop to acceptable levels by then. It’s not time to relax, though.

We know what happens when people let their guards down too early with the coronavirus.

You want preseason stats? Alabama reported 1,923 new coronavirus cases on Thursday morning, and there were 1,598 hospitalized people in the state due to COVID-19-related health problems. We’re under a state-wide mask order until Aug.31. Football can wait.

These altered league schedules we’re seeing around the country are nothing to celebrate. They’re necessary cash bailouts because college football pays the bills and keeps the lights on for non-revenue sports. If universities weren’t desperate for television money from ESPN and CBS, then league presidents would not be voting to play games.

They’re going to try and have college football, but the stadiums will be mostly empty. We’re hoping for football, but it’s still going to require a commitment from the public to follow rules. Tailgating? Nah. Not this year.

Grim statistics were recently reported in Al.com‘s Ramsey Archibald‘s article “Coronavirus deaths already well past average annual flu deaths in Alabama.” He said that it “has now been clear for some time – COVID-19 is not ‘just a bad flu.’ Alabama hasn’t suffered more than 1,268 flu deaths in any of the last 20 years – a number the coronavirus has already topped.” Archibald said that epidemiologists were concerned, that when the flu season begins, the two viruses could “potentially overlap in busy hospitals.”

In addition to the over thirty thousand University of Alabama students that are expected to return to the Capstone, having upwards of fifty thousand football fans enter the mix in T-Town is entering uncharted territory. There is already a great amount of uncertainty involved in reopening the campus.

Will Tuscaloosa become a giant petri dish for the Coronavirus in the Fall or will everything go as planned? Will students and fans act responsibly by social distancing and wearing masks, before and after the games? Will football players remain healthy? It can fairly be said that there has seldom been a football season in T-Town that is as much on the minds of its residents as this one has been.

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