How much a dollar costs: the price of safety and player revenue

Alex Dumais (43) celebrates a sack against Nevada at Bulldog Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

As the autumn leaves begin to metamorphosize from vibrant green to a fiery hue of orange, the change in the weather signals the time of the year when pageantry, beauty and the mythology of the gridiron and legends past take center stage.

If the 2020 season is postponed, this would be the first time in nearly 102 years that a scheduled football season would fail to start as planned. A deadly combination of World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic played a role in the 1918 season beginning in November.

Although the world isn’t at war, the threat of a pandemic continues to loom over the world as it did a century before and for there to be college football this fall, the process will be both long and arduous.

There has been a recent resurgence of COVID-19 upticks, and numerous college football programs have been hit with players testing positive and contracting the virus, including 13 Texas players, 23 Clemson players and at least 30 players on the roster of the reigning national champions, LSU.

With those athletes now in quarantine, it has become obvious that this virus is not going anywhere anytime soon, no matter what phase the national, state and local governments say we are currently in.

In the case of LSU tracing the contractions back to players going to social gatherings and participating in nightlife activities, the fact remains that all it takes is coming in contact with those who have the virus and not following COVID-19 guidelines for it to spread.

At the local level, Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro stated in early June that the university was working on protocols for how often to test, what to do in the case of a positive test and how individuals could protect those around them, all of which are in accordance with the NCAA.

“We will certainly have enough tests. Athletes would have to be tested more,” Castro said. “And so, we have a committee of Mountain West conference health experts now meeting with PAC-12 health experts.”

But, an increase Tin testing is a superficial and aesthetically pleasing solution because although it allows for those who have contracted the virus to be quarantined, receive medical treatment and stop the infected from spreading the virus, it is not the most preventative measure.

We are already beyond the point where, even if the season somehow takes place, having anyone who isn’t essential to the game taking place should be barred from the stadium entirely. 

With the smallest Division I stadium holding 15,314 people and the largest holding an astronomical 107,601, how can schools safely navigate COVID-19 guidelines, not to mention with all the festivities surrounding what a college football Saturday looks like?

We are at the point where even if fans are begrudgingly willing to accept the loss of rallying, tailgating and attending their school’s games, they still need to be ready to rationalize what consequences a season could bring.

The best preventative measure for fighting the spread of COVID-19 is not having nearly 100 student-athletes, dozens of coaches, seven officials and equipment and medical staff members in close proximity to each other.

For those who are clamoring for football to make a return and in need of their yearly fix, keep in mind that you are not the 18-23-year-old student-athletes putting your health, and in some cases, life on the line for miniscule compensation.

Having those athletes play in the fall is comparable to minimum wage workers continuing to work during the height of the pandemic, putting their lives on the line because their only means of survival would be put in jeopardy.

Those workers were not afforded hazardous pay for continuing to serve the needs of the consumer, and neither will these student-athletes if they take the field in the fall.

But, that may not matter because those people who couldn’t care less about the health of a student-athlete are the same people who feel wearing masks in public is emasculating, and their constitutional rights are stripped when they can’t enter their favorite restaurant without a mask.

One wonders if the NCAA, conferences and universities have the best interests of student-athletes at heart, or if the need for revenue in one of the most severe economic downturns in history is the driving factor for one of the most lucrative sports in American history to return.

According to a report from ESPN, the cancellation of the 2020 college football season would induce a loss of $4 billion, leaving athletics departments around the country in financial ruin, which could lead to massive cutbacks of programs and employees.

Like other college programs around the country, the Fresno State athletic department is dependent on the revenue of the football program, as it accounted for nearly 70 percent of the athletics revenue in 2019-20.

Fresno State football was proposed to have generated $4.35 million in gate receipts, $1.63 million in game guarantees and $350,000 in parking last season, which goes a long way when almost every sport has an operating budget north of $80,000.

In the case of Fresno State, the money that football rakes in is pertinent to the survival of many of the department’s 21 programs and if the football season does not take place, the loss of revenue would be upward of $11 million.

It’s no secret that football is a cash cow and savior to athletic departments across the country, leading to the NCAA, conferences and universities doing everything in their powers to make sure that play continues in the fall.

Fortunately, the players are also aware of what football in the fall means monetarily and have begun to question the safety measures put in place by their universities and have grown wary of their intentions.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, 30 UCLA players united in support of a document that would protect them as they make a return to campus and football in the fall.

The Bruin players have laid out a list of demands, as they do not trust UCLA will act in their best interest when it comes to health, citing that the school has “perpetually failed us” and “neglected and mismanaged injury cases.”

Demands include a third-party health official be present during all football activities to see that COVID-19 prevention protocols are being followed, anonymous whistleblower protections are provided for athletes and staff and each player has the choice to return without fear of losing his scholarship or retaliation for their decision.

“These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected,” the document said. “If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities. The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win.”

In the article, it was mentioned that the UCLA players were monitoring the situation in Texas, and one anonymous player was quoted as saying, “We put our lives at risk every single time we put on that helmet.”

The NCAA, conferences and universities have shown in the past that when left to their own devices, the driving force behind decisions is monetary gain. So, is it too far-fetched to question whether safety measures will be adequately followed or are enough to keep players safe in the first place?

The player later went on to say, “They say there’s a .1 percent chance of somebody dying, but last time I checked, that .1 percent has to be somebody. We’re going to come to a point where a college player will literally have to die from COVID-19 for someone to understand what’s going on. I hope it doesn’t have to reach that point.”

God forbid we find out how much a life really costs owing to our desperation to have a football season outweighing the value of the lives put in jeopardy to do so. 

With the first scheduled game a little more than two months away, the NCAA, conferences and universities need to think long and hard about any decision toward allowing college football to resume play in the fall because if the wrong decision is made, grave consequences may follow.

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