Matt Tait: Fate of the 2020 college football season now in the hands of the players

photo by: Nick Krug

Members of the Kansas football team form a circle as two players go head-to-head in the Jayhawk drill during practice on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019.

In a world where so much is still unknown about the COVID-19 virus that has derailed the 2020 college football season, let me share with you one certainty — this thing is on the players now.

With the Big 12 moving forward with a 10-game season this fall, it’s the players who will decide not only the outcome of the games but also whether there will even be games in the first place.

The challenge that rests at their feet is far tougher than blocking a future first-round draft pick on the edge or trying to hang with top-ranked Oklahoma. But it can be done.

If it isn’t, there probably won’t be football for very long this fall.

“The coaches and medical professionals are no doubt talking to (their players) about the risk they take to not only themselves but their teammates and, to some extent, their season if they put themselves in circumstances where they have increased exposure,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during a teleconference on Wednesday.

So far, players in programs across the country have done an admirable job of following the rules and keeping themselves healthy enough to keep the season alive. The execution in that department has not been flawless, but no one expected it would be.

And it has been good enough to inspire the Big 12, ACC and SEC to push forward while the Big Ten and Pac-12 have bowed out.

But the hardest part is still ahead, and staying on the right side of the testing when thousands of other students make their return to campuses will make the task more daunting.

There will be parties, nights out and hordes of college kids doing what college kids do. And football players everywhere will feel the temptation to join the fun, especially after victories.

But if playing this season is as important to them as so many of them have so clearly said it is, then they cannot make the decision to join. It’s simply too risky and too much is on the line.

Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said Wednesday night that he and head coach Les Miles met with the Jayhawks earlier that day to begin explaining some of the priorities and areas of emphasis for the upcoming season.

That discussion had nothing to do with Brent Dearmon’s offense or how KU’s revamped secondary might look.

“My message to them is I think the most successful teams are going to be disciplined in the way they approach the COVID virus,” Long said. “Disciplined in washing their hands, wearing their masks, social distancing, staying away from large public gatherings, avoiding the parties. Those people that are disciplined in that regard are going to have the greatest chance to win because they’re going to have a full complement of their teammates around them when they go to play a football game.”

Playing with a full team is a nice thought. But it probably won’t happen for too many teams this season. Players will test positive and get sick. The goal, though, should be for these guys to come together to make it so the team as a whole can compete for 10 weeks this fall.

That’s a scary concept when you’re talking about a roster that includes 119 players. More than 100 of them could play this thing perfectly and follow the rules to a T. But if even 5% of them misstep, it could cost the Jayhawks a game, a month or even their season.

“The student-athletes are going to have to be smart about it,” Bowlsby said. “Or they’ll find themselves exposed and a percentage will get the virus.”

If that percentage is too high, what comes next won’t be much fun for anyone.


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