By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One-fourth of the Iowa football team’s 2020 season has now been eliminated due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The Big Ten Conference announced on Thursday that it has decided that a conference-only season is the best outcome under the current circumstances, which has the highly contagious Coronavirus spreading in over 30 states.
But that’s just the beginning in a developing story that is as fluid as any story gets.
What seems fair and reasonable right now might look dramatically different in a week or two.
This crisis has decision makers navigating through uncharted territory and it’s hard to stay optimistic in the wake of the Big Ten’s decision to eliminate nonconference games.
Iowa was set to play Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Illinois in its three nonconference games, with all three games at Kinnick Stadium.
The loss of three home games will be a huge hit for the Iowa City economy from a financial standpoint, but for Northern Iowa’s athletic program, it’ll be devastating.
Northern Iowa as a Football Championship Subdivision team relies on the guaranteed money from facing a Power 5 program, and was set to make $650,000 from its game with Iowa.
The Big Ten with its decision to eliminate nonconference games is obviously trying to buy more time, and trying to reduce the amount of contact that would occur during the season in order to lessen the risks of being infected.
But with trying to buy more times comes the reliance on hope, and right now, hope is fleeting, both locally and nationally.
“I can’t reiterate enough the fact that we might not play. We just might not, and I think people need to understand that,” said Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith.
Iowa reported 733 new positive Coronavirus cases as of late Thursday morning, the highest single-day jump in cases since May 1. The total number of cases in Iowa is currently 33,121.
Unless something changes for the better in a hurry, it’s hard to envision any college or high school football games being played this fall.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta released a statement on Thursday in which he expressed full support for the decision to play conference-only games.
“We fully support the actions taken by the Big Ten Conference, knowing that the health and safety, and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is the top priority,” Barta said. “The past few months have entailed numerous conversations between my conference colleagues, Commissioner (Kevin) Warren and our Big Ten presidents, as we have worked to navigate the challenges associated with this pandemic.
“The uncertainties have been difficult on our student-athletes and coaches and I appreciate their continued understanding of the situation. I am grateful for our fans who are also waiting for direction. While many uncertainties still exist, today’s decision will provide the greatest amount of flexibility as we move forward.”
If the virus continues to spread, it seems inevitable that the next decision before eliminating football all together in 2020 would be to prohibit most fans from attending the games.
The elimination of fans would be devastating to local economies, but there still would be a chance to generate television revenue.
So it wouldn’t be a total loss for the Power 5 teams, but for teams like Northern Iowa, and for teams from mid-level conferences such as the Mid-American Conference, the loss of revenue could cause catastrophic damage.
For now, it is assumed that college campuses will be open to a certain extent this fall, but that could also change depending on what the virus does over the next month.
What if the virus continues to spread and students are forced to take classes online this fall?
Why would parents of football players allow their sons to compete under what would look like a money-grab double standard?
Because if it is too dangerous for students to be on campus, it should also be too dangerous for student-athletes to play football games on campuses.
My guess is that the 2020 season will ultimately be moved to early spring 2021.
However, you don’t want to start too early in 2021 due to weather concerns. But you also can’t start too late in the spring if you want to have the 2021 football season start on time.
There is just so much to consider at the college level, and so much uncertainty with the virus.
The Big Ten’s decision to eliminate nonconference games this fall could be viewed as an act of desperation.
And the beginning to the end of football in 2020.