Updated: Aug 15
Amid the chaos of the Big Ten and Pac-12 eliminating all fall sports including football, a voice of reason from Atlantic Coast Conference medical advisor Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist who says, “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But do I believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”
Duke’s hospital and medical school is world renowned. Dr. Wolfe is not one of these guys who couldn’t get into a reputable med school so he got his diploma from a school on some island somewhere that nobody really knows about. His statement says plenty about why the ACC, SEC and Big 12 are moving cautiously ahead with plans to play football in the fall. After all, the NBA is playing. Major League Baseball is playing. The National Hockey League is playing. The National Football League is forging ahead. Obviously, those people rely on doctors of the caliber of Cameron Wolfe in making their decisions.
Meanwhile, Tuesday saw cancellation of all fall sports by the Big Ten and Pac-12, this on the heels of the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West electing to do without sports for at least the fall months. What these conferences did is tantamount to a financial Waterloo but the ripple effect goes far beyond and is liable to overwhelm the pea-sized brains of the bumbling bureaucrats who work for Mark Emmert at the NCAA. Good old Mark Emmert. He seems like a captain determined to go down with the ship, doesn’t he?
Mark Emmert has been noticeably silent as two members of the Power 5 have called off fall sports. At a time when leadership starts at the top, Emmert seems to be hiding in half-bath in the basement, perhaps deep in prayer that when he climbs the steps to emerge into daylight all the problems will have magically disappeared. His silence has very well set in motion the secession by the Power 5 schools and perhaps some other leagues as well. At a time when leadership is necessary, the NCAA offers none.
When Emmert does emerge and wipes his eyes so they can focus in the daylight, he’s going to face a host of other issues. You could say this will be the sports equivalent of an avalanche because you can expect athletes in every sport from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences that cancelled fall schedules to enter their names in the transfer portals. Once in the transfer portal, athletes are free to make contact and be recruited by other schools.
If Emmert isn’t prepared to subject the NCAA to lawsuits on a massive scale, he’s going to have to grant the waiver requests of everyone whose sport got cancelled that transfers to a school in a conference that forges ahead. If the flow of players leaving is a Noah building an ark flood of Biblical proportions, then the NCAA is going to have to seriously consider expanding rosters from their current 85-scholarship limit. Expanded rosters is something the NCAA has already had to deal with since cancelling all spring sports. Spring sports rosters will be expanded to accommodate the players who lost their 2020 season so the NCAA already knows how to deal with this issue.
Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators are likely beneficiaries when the floodgates open. Now that Big Ten athletics are shut down, there is no reason why Penn State wide receiver transfer Justin Shorter won’t be declared immediately eligible. Shorter is a former 5-star recruit blessed with the kind of size (6-4, 225) and speed (sub-4.6) that make him a nightmare matchup. He’s got tight end size but too fast for a safety to cover and too big for your conventional cover corner. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining and his presence adds experience to a receivers room that has to make up for the graduation loss of four who will be playing for pay in the fall including second rounder Van Jefferson (Los Angeles Rams).
There will be plenty of other transfers. SEC, ACC and Big 12 schools in need of a plug and play guy at a position of need should have a chance to add a missing link in the next couple of weeks as players from the Big Ten and Pac-12 elect the option of playing immediately rather than face the possibility of playing two seasons separated by three months.
Take a moment and think about that. The Big Ten and Pac-12 claim to be so concerned about the health of players yet they’re willing to play a spring season followed by a full fall schedule separated by two or three months at best. There is far less chance of a player suffering a permanent disorder or death from Covid-19 than there is of a serious injury from the physical stress of two football seasons in one calendar year.
When the spigot of transfers begins to flow to the portal, no one should expect a big name like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to go anywhere. He knows he will be a top five pick when the NFL drafts next April whether he plays or not. He won’t play in the spring because that would subject him to an injury that could affect his draft status just weeks before Roger Goodell starts announcing who’s going where.
There are, however, plenty of players out there whose draft status could be seriously altered if they don’t have a chance to show pro scouts what they can do on the field in real games. Don’t forget that heading into the 2019 season, the scouts had Joe Burrow pegged as a sixth or seventh rounder. If he hadn’t had the opportunity to light up all those teams while leading LSU to the national championship he certainly wouldn’t have been selected with the first pick in the April draft. You can be assured there are many, many players from the conferences that have eighty-sixed their seasons whose decisions to transfer out to play football this fall will be influenced by what happened with Burrow.
At Florida, Mullen has close to a full roster, but he could be looking for a plug and play guy at middle linebacker or right tackle. If Indiana middle linebacker Micah McFadden (6-2, 235, JR) tests the transfer waters, you can bet the farm that Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be interested. McFadden is a quality player who was in on 61 tackles last year (two interceptions) and was a preseason third team All-Big Ten pick by Lindy’s. Throw in the fact that McFadden prepped at Tampa Plant and the Gators might have a big body in the middle who could possibly replace the graduated David Reese, who left UF with 322 career tackles.
Expect Mississippi State coach Mike Leach to have an active interest in what goes on with players at Washington State. Now that the Pac-12 has postponed football, there could be a flood of transfers from Washington State, Leach’s former outpost. Without the benefit of spring football to install his Air Raid offense, Leach could definitely use some players who already know the system. It just so happens Wazzoo has three returning starters on the O-line and Leach just so happens to need three. Leach could also use a couple of experienced wide receivers and there are three at Wazzoo who probably would be happy to play for Leach once again. Davontavean Martin (6-3, 186) caught 43 passes for 564 yards and four TDs last year at Wazzoo (138-1,615, 18 TDs career). He’s from Houma, Louisiana so Starkville is an easy drive from home. Also available is Travell Harris (5-9, 180), who has 64 catches for 845 yards and six TDs in his Wazzoo career. He’s a Tampa native so getting back to warmer weather and closer to home might have serious appeal.
If there is a healthy outflow of players from the Big Ten and Pac-12, you can expect their coaches will sell hard to 2021 recruits the need to early enroll so they can play in the spring. Of course, this is another potential dilemma that the NCAA will have to address if Emmert ever comes out of the basement. The NCAA might need to waive scholarship rules to expand or replace depleted rosters.
Of course, the schools that play in the fall will have a real advantage over the ones that don’t when it comes to recruiting. The schools that play have a product on the field and potential recruits will be able to gauge how they will fit in as well as know which players have exhausted eligibility or who leave early for the NFL. Up in Big Ten territory, the idea of early enrollees playing football immediately might be a hard sell. How can Ohio State coach Ryan Day, for example, assure kids there will be football in the spring? If the Big Ten cancelled fall football for “health concerns” it stands to reason the league will consider the health of players before embarking on a spring and fall season that will greatly enhance the possibility of injury. No spring football? That might be a greater possibility than you can imagine if the Big Ten and Pac-12 are serious about “health concerns.”
This could create a string of decommitments for the recruiting class of 2021 as kids committed to schools in the Big Ten and Pac-12 hedge their bets and look to the SEC, ACC or Big 12 as a viable alternative. Ohio State, which has the consensus number one class for 2021 has already lost 5-star defensive end Tunmise Adelye (6-4, 255, Katy, Texas/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy) decommit amid news the Big Ten would cancel. Smart money has him going to either Oklahoma or Texas A&M now. Will 4-star pro style QB Jake Garcia (6-2, 195, Valdosta, GA) remain committed to Southern Cal? How about 4-star running back and Ohio State commitment Treyveon Henderson (5-11, 190, Hopewell, VA)? Before he committed to Ohio State he seemed headed for certain to Alabama. Colorado isn’t playing so 4-star defensive tackle commit Tyas Martin (6-4, 315, Jacksonville, AR) could be looking for a new home. Four star outside linebacker Junior Colson (6-2, 215, Brentwood, TN) was being heavily recruited by half the SEC before he committed to Michigan.
The list goes on and on but you can know that every single kid that was committed to a Pac-12 or Big Ten school is filled with doubts and reconsidering his choices: Stick with the commitment or go with the surer thing, a team from a league that is playing football this fall?
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Remember that show on TV “The Biggest Loser”? This week’s biggest loser is The Big Ten Network followed closely by whatever passes itself off as the cable broadcast home for the woefully weak Pac-12. By eliminating all sports including football not only do all the schools in those respective leagues take a serious financial hit, but their networks will need tourniquets and emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. No sports in the fall means these networks will be replaying old games. There are only so many replays of the 2019 UCLA-Cincinnati game (UCLA lost to their country cousins from the American Athletic Conference, 24-14) that a fan can stand before he cancels his subscriptions and calls his cable operator to demand the SEC Network.
The SEC Network is going to thrive and will probably see the largest surge in subscribers since the launch date back in 2014. The fledgling ACC Network might get past the break even point and the Big 12 will thrive too even with its weird deal with the Longhorn Network. Live sports will do that for you and once subscribers get a whiff of sports being played once again, they won’t look favorably on networks that have gone dark.
Perhaps with the SEC playing a conference-only slate and being the greatest show on turf this fall, CBS might rejoin negotiations to continue with the SEC after the 2023 season. CBS balked when the bidding for future contracts went beyond $300 million per year, but the page that holds ESPN’s bottom line looks like someone slashed his wrists and bled all over it. ESPN’s brand has taken a real hit with the NBA and Major League Baseball. Things could get worse in the fall with the NFL if fans react to players taking a knee the way they did when Colin Kaepernick first introduced the practice four years ago.
Another big winner will be the American Athletic Conference, which has elected to play in the fall rather than cancel. With Fox Sports losing its college football bell cows (Big Ten and Pac-12), it’s going to need replacements for games and the AAC could be just what the doctor ordered. The league plays a wide open brand of football and it doesn’t have a huge TV contract. If the AAC could get picked up by Fox or even NBC, then it could get paydays that it has never experienced. What the AAC earns in TV money per school qualifies as tip money for Power 5 athletic directors.
Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference have also announced plans to keep on playing. They won’t command the money the AAC can but they can pick up a lot more television revenue as ESPN, in particular, looks to fill out its schedule.
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This quote comes from a Yahoo Sports column by Charles Robinson, who reports mostly on NFL matters. Robinson takes a rather cynical view of the NCAA, school presidents and conference commissioners:
“They’re operating in their own best interests while painting the actions as what’s safe and best for their captive labor. And all the while, they’re preserving the status quo of how NCAA schools work collectively — through a cynical process of control and inhibition disguised as education as amateurism. A familiar process that keeps a very small few at the top dictating what’s best for the vast numbers down below.”
Robinson said this before the Big Ten and Pac-12 called it quits for the fall. Had he waited until Tuesday it would have been the perfect, scathing indictment of Big Ten rookie commissioner Kevin Warren and the inept Larry Scott, the Mr. All Promise and No Deliver commissioner of the Pac-12. If the SEC, ACC and Big 12 thrive as they should this fall, then it wouldn’t be surprising if both Warren and Scott are shown the door.
And what happens if effective medicine against covid-19 is announced sometime in September with a vaccine to follow? Wall Street has been on a roll this past week with the expectation that medicine and a vaccine aren’t that far away? The SEC, ACC and Big 12 are well prepared since their start dates for football begin on September 26. It will be too late for the Big Ten and Pac-12 to crank up football if that happens.
If effective treatment against the virus is announced, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will look like the second coming of Albert Einstein while Warren and Scott will strongly resemble the kids who sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap.
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The first conference that axed sports this fall was the Mid-American Conference, which cited “health concerns.” The real health concern might not have been for the players but for the bank accounts of the league’s 12 members, all of whom had at least one paycheck game axed when the Power 5 schools went conference-only, conference plus-1 or eliminated football this fall altogether.
Here is a list of the schools and their paycheck games that went the way of the 5-cent cigar:
Buffalo: 9/5 at Kansas State (Big 12); 9/19 at Ohio State (Big Ten) Miami (Ohio): 9/5 at Pitt (ACC) Toledo: 9/19 at Michigan State
Western Michigan: 9/19 at Notre Dame (ACC); 9/26 at Syracuse (ACC)
Ohio U: 9/12 at Boston College (ACC) Central Michigan: 9/12 at Nebraska (Big Ten); 9/19 at Northwestern (Big Ten)
Ball State: 9/12 at Michigan (Big Ten); 9/19 at Indiana (Big Ten) Northern Illinois: 9/12 at Maryland (Big Ten); 9/26 at Iowa (Big Ten)
Kent State: 9/5 at Penn State (Big Ten); 9/19 at Kentucky (SEC); 9/26 at Alabama (SEC) Eastern Michigan: 9/5 at Kentucky (SEC); 9/26 at Missouri (SEC)
Bowling Green: 9/5 at Ohio State (Big Ten); 9/19 at Illinois (Big Ten) Akron: 9/19 at Clemson (ACC)