The Drive with Jody Oehler

The Drive with Jody Oehler

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The Truth About What Is Happening In College Football

College Football became the first major sport in America to postpone their entire season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is serious and it is an ongoing problem for virtually every sector of society and the economy. But to this point, sports leagues across the country had decided that at least attempting to play was the right thing for all parties involved, no matter how imperfect it may be during this pandemic.

The Big 10 decided it wasn't even worth the effort while many presume the Pac 12 and other conferences may follow.

Never mind that two weeks ago the conferences released updated, consolidated schedules that eliminated non conference matchup's and provided scheduling flexibility.

Never mind that a week ago fall camps opened up across the country as teams began preparations for the season, no matter what the season might look like.

Over the weekend, rumblings began that university presidents and leaders felt it was too risky to play.

Never mind that the pandemic has been going full tilt in some region of the country or another since March. These university presidents and college leaders apparently decided that the billion dollar industry of college football, that the marketing vehicles for many university's swelling undergraduate ranks and the economic engine for many businesses in and around campus was not worth the time or effort of planning in previous months.

No, apparently sometime in the last three or four days the powers that be in the Big 10 and Pac 12 decided something had to be done to protect those vulnerable football players.

Except that's not what happened at all, in my opinion.

What's really happening is a story that's not being properly told.

This story is a story that's as old as time. It's about greed and power.

This is the story of how university and college leaders understood that while players were likely right in asking for more health and safety protocols, as soon as players presented a unified front asking for them, the schools could not grant them. If they granted them in the face of organized player movements, it would be capitulating to the players and their movement.

Sure, right now its more than reasonable to ask for more safety and health protocols but what happens if that same loosely organized structure of players asks for non-health related requests? Once players began to realize their collective power, how will they ever stop asking?

Threats of player organization have been squashed before, why couldn't schools steamroll them again this time?

Because this time it is different.

MLB players and then NFL players handed the winning formula to college athletes everywhere. Don't wage your war behind closed doors where the traditional power centers of sports have successfully wielded their power; use social media to present a united front and in a place where owners and university presidents can't win - on twitter.

Who cares if the player "movement" was nothing more than a graphic and retweets. That's all it takes for a story to start. Social media is the kindling for most stories now, making it easier than ever to start a wildfire.

College players successfully followed MLB and NFL players who were fresh off their own forms of collectively tweeted successes.

Schools will now try to play the long game. Perhaps by spring there will be less of an ongoing pandemic and more answers than questions. If thats true, players won't need to unite to ask for more health and safety protocols. If the spring doesn't work, perhaps by the fall when graduation and NFL Draft declarations will turn over the college workforce, schools will be more comfortable trying to play with a group of players anxious to get on the field for the first time in 18 months.

Colleges are also wary of the vulnerability to academic students if they grant athletes additional health and safety measures. If Johnny Football player gets daily testing and access to world class health facilities for treatment and prevention, why doesn't Susie Student? The virus doesn't care whether you're an athlete or not, why should schools?

We're used to double standards existing on campus relative to athletes versus students. Athletes have access to the best tutors, the best amenities and the biggest perks. Students pay for them. But we all follow anyway because being on college is made more fulfilling by having sports a part of campus life for many students.

But what happens if players have professional level health and safety standards but students are told their tuition will only get them online classes? Or they can come on campus but its every student for themself -health and safety wise- once on campus?

That double standard is largely tolerable for most during normal times. These are not normal times. This isn't about dollars and cents for schools, its about life and death (or at least can be framed that way) and not even college football is greedy enough to ignore that.

Colleges have recently used the discovery that some COVID patients experience an ugly side effect of heart inflammation that can jeopardize someone's life if not properly monitored as a reason for postponing the season.

But this condition is a well known possible side effect of viruses and according to some doctors, not a justifiable reason to shut the college football season down.

With proper screening and treatment, it's not viewed as a threat to most who experience it. But then again, if schools are willing to do this for athletes, shouldn't they be offering the same action to students on campus?

This isn't a Reddit fueled conspiracy theory or detachment from reality rabbit hole. Its the only plausible explanation why schools suddenly sprung into abort mode after players decided to loosely organize and ask for better care.

Players deserve better health protocols. Players deserve a louder voice at the table. Players deserve to not be nakedly exploited by campuses for their ability to power the school's finances.

But college football has never been about rewarding what is deserved. At the top, it's always been about power and greed. And this is no different.

The pandemic is a nightmare for many people. And that's true for college football.

Just not the kind of nightmare you've been told.

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