Lichtenstein: All Conferences Must Shut Down College Football

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All across the country a healthy debate is raging between those who believe that the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic demand virtual instruction for this school year versus those who are concerned that the long-term academic and social damage from the loss of in-school learning outweigh those risks. Whether it’s kindergarten or college, we have yet to reach a national consensus.When it comes to college football this fall, however, there should be no such debate. Only the greedy would attempt to find a way for exposed and unpaid kids to entertain television audiences for their own enrichment.The Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced on Tuesday they have joined the many conferences who have succumbed to reality by postponing their fall football seasons.The SEC, ACC, and Big 12—hello? What more evidence do you need that your designs have the potential to create superspreading environments? Campuses comprised of 18-22 year olds are not safe, be it in the dorms, the classrooms, or on the playing fields.Especially on the playing fields. Football is a contact sport with unusually large athletes, some of whom have health conditions that could make them more susceptible to severe outcomes if infected with COVID-19, in head-to-head combat. Indoor locker rooms, even those kept sanitary, can be petri dishes for a coronavirus transmitted through the air.  Don’t be fooled if any administrator has the temerity to shout, “Bubble!” None exists. NCAA rules require that all housing contains at least 51% of general population students so as to not provide a special benefit. Unless the campus is shut down, these students are on their way. Good luck keeping them from engaging with popular players during off hours. Those that live off campus will be tempted to stray into town, many of which are still seeing spikes in cases despite constant warnings. If you thought the onset of summer training programs brought a wave of infections upon players, wait a few weeks.Oh, and did I mention that coaches, trainers, and other staff members get to go home every day? How many people do they come in contact with before returning to work, adding another layer of risk?The coronavirus has already caused devastating consequences to players (like the University of North Carolina student newspaper, I refuse to call them “student-athletes”, a made-up term by our institutions of higher learning for the purpose of avoiding the cost of workers’ compensation). Per ESPN, at least five Big Ten athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle often linked to viral infection. Once the NCAA banned universities from requiring players to sign liability waivers, a new cost-benefit analysis needed to be conducted by Big Ten programs.Remember, big-time college football has nothing to do with education—it’s a multi-billion dollar business. They are faux non-profit organizations. No games equals no money—for the adults, I mean. The kids? The value they receive in scholarships and stipends is a pittance compared to their worth.So when the players lined up the last few days to tweet, “#WeWantToPlay”, it was about more than their desire to get back out there for good ole State U. They want a say in matters, including the right to form a College Football Players Association.Unionization is a third rail issue at the NCAA, which continues to fight tooth-and-nail for its designation as this country’s last bastion of amateurism. They want schools like Colorado State, which allegedly engaged in a cover up by threatening players with loss of playing time if they talked to trainers about their possible COVID-19 symptoms and doctoring contact tracing reports, to keep their hammers.Professional sports unions negotiated everything from safety protocols to revenue sharing. The players understand the risks associated with receiving their compensation. College football players, on the other hand, are being told, “Trust us” by the same folks who have taken advantage of their institutional power throughout the history of the sport.If only those responsible in the three conference laggards would just call a timeout.For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.