The decision last Saturday by the Big Sky Conference to postpone the football season until next spring put a damper on local enthusiasm for the start of the 2020 college football season in Arizona.
Fans of the Northern Arizona University football team suddenly found themselves with a lot of free Saturdays this fall.
They knew it could happen, as the COVID-19 virus continues to change the landscape of college sports, but were hoping to dodge the bullet. The Mid-American Conference (MAC) had already become the first casualty, announcing its delay until spring just days earlier and making it the first FBS conference to decide not to play. That decision affects all fall sports programs in the conference.
Then, three days after the Big Sky pulled the plug, the domino effect went into high gear. Two of the Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 and Big Ten, announced postponements into next year. Once again, all fall sports were included in the decision.
That meant all three Arizona D-I teams have been sidelined by the virus. The Arizona State and University of Arizona programs are scrambling to make adjustments.
The Pac-12 CEO Group, which voted unanimously to postpone all sports competition through the rest of the year, agreed to consider a return to competition after Jan. 1 — dependent on whether conditions improve by then.
In the meantime, athletes’ scholarships will be guaranteed and the conference is recommending to the NCAA that students who opt out of competition this academic year be granted an additional year of eligibility.
So… was delaying, or possibly cancelling , the season the right decision? Depends on who you ask.
Dave Heeke, the director of athletics at UofA, appears to be in agreement with the decision. “The news….is challenging, but it is the right decision because it prioritizes health, safety, and well-being above all else,” he explained in a prepared statement on the school’s website.
“These priorities have been the shared guiding principles of the University of Arizona and Arizona Athletics since the outbreak of the global pandemic in March, and they remain our focus moving forward.”
However, there are numerous others who take exception to the decision and feel that it would be in the best interest of the athletes to allow them to compete in the fall.
Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz is one of the most outspoken critics of the decision to delay the start of the season, calling it a cop-out. Holtz feels the players would be safer on campus, in a program where their health is monitored, regular testing is administered, and medical treatment is readily available should there be the need.
Instead, the college presidents are taking the safe approach, fearful of the lawsuits that could follow if they allow the season to begin too early. But they also have to weigh their decision against the many millions of dollars that it will cost to shut down, or even move, football.
Players want to play, coaches want to coach, and the fans are hungry for the start of college sports.
But, if your team plays in one of these conferences, you’ll have to wait a little longer to satisfy that appetite.