State of the Union: What Is Driving the Decisions of Youth and Amateur Sports?

As college and high school sports remain in flux, it’s clear the majority of decisions are based on regional and class alignments. The coaches and players want to play, while leadership debates the liability involved. 

With so much uncertainty about what the world will look like for the rest of 2020, sports are back at the forefront of the conversation, especially with the latest reports stemming from the Big Ten’s decision to cancel their college football season by a 12 to 2 vote, according to Dan Patrick of The Dan Patrick Show. 

While other college athletic programs had made the same decision in the last couple of weeks, including the MAC in Division I, the Big Ten is the first Power Five conference to decide to cancel. Battle lines are being drawn among the Power Five conferences, and you get a sense that feelings toward football in 2020 are geographic.

The obvious trend here is the regional alliances. It’s no shock that the Pac 12, which is primarily west coast, and the midwestern Big Ten are battling the primarily south and southeast Big 12, SEC, and ACC. The political and regional beliefs are at the forefront of the arguments.

It has trickled down to the high school level, where western states like California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all delayed their football seasons to the spring. Minnesota, Illinois, and Virginia have also delayed football until the spring. Compare that to the southeast, where the majority of states are still intending to play ball in the fall. 

I mentioned last week that the lack of a central governing body puts the college football season at risk. This was a few weeks back, as the Big Ten and Pac 12 both moved to a conference-only football schedule. The rest of the Power Five conferences eventually followed suit. This was due to simply observing the financial incentives of having a college football season compared to the ability to safely test and maintain health protocols for their athletes.

Many players and coaches are now standing up to advocate for their right and desire to play. Two former Georgia high school quarterbacks, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, both advocated for the formation of a college players’ association so that the players can have their own ground to stand up for their rights. This started a trend across the Power Five conferences, and the hashtag #WeWantToPlay began to trend. While conference presidents and leaders are looking to absolve themselves of liability, the players have made their stance clear. The players listed in their tweets that they want the ability to either opt out or play, to assume more rights for eligibility, and to have a seat at the debate table.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh also advocated for the return to football. 

“I would like to address the rumors that are swirling today,” Harbaugh said in the statement. “I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13.”

In the statement, Harbaugh mentions that Michigan has had zero positive tests since entering their offseason training program. He believes that the model allows for a method to keep the athletes safe and in a controlled environment. 

“We have developed a great prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play,” he said. “If you are transparent and follow the rules, this is how it can be done.”

You can go back and forth on which is the safest method, but it’s clear that the schools are under the assumption that canceling fall sports will absolve them of liability. Players, coaches, and students could all contract COVID-19 away from their programs, but at least the schools, in their eyes, aren’t liable for anyone getting sick. 

Sports will not look the same in 2020. We aren’t sure what will happen, but the questions continue to pile up about how to safely play this game.

Written by: Kyle Grondin