We are in an unprecedented time, dealing with issues that we have never seen before. Even during WWII when we had most of our young, healthy men fighting overseas, we still had college football. The closest history can come to 2020 is 1918. In the middle of WWI and the Spanish Flu of 1918, there was still college football in a limited schedule. Unlike COVID-19, which poses virtually zero risk of death to young, healthy adults, the Spanish Flu was particularly deadly to that group. The Spanish Flu killed around 3% of the world’s population and reduced the life expectancy in the U.S. by an estimated 12 years. Yet we still played college football.
Whether or not you like college football or ever watch it, most Americans do. College football is America’s second most popular sport with an estimated 163 million unique viewers annually. A Gallup poll found that 56% of U.S. adults considered themselves fans of college football. In other words, roughly half the voters that show up in November will be self-identified college football fans. Given that the election is hitting at the peak of the college football season when the pretenders are being separated from the contenders, college football will be on the minds of these fans, and thus on the minds of a majority of voters.
Interesting developments are happening in college football that have an impact on the election. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 have announced their schedules and plans to proceed with the college football season in a modified fashion, featuring primarily 10 game conference only schedules. Other minor conferences in the footprint of these three big boys plan to play as well. Medical opinions are wide and varied across the leagues, depending on who you ask and what their agenda is. The plan for these conferences is to play football after evaluating all of the available information.
The Pac 12 and the Big Ten are the two Power 5 leagues that have voted (or maybe not really) to cancel their fall season. They have discussed having a spring football season. A spring season is not going to happen. There are issues with the NFL Draft timing and preparation with upper-classmen. There are significant safety risks in trying to fit two football season in such a short window. Football is a brutal game on the body and time is needed between seasons to recover. The risk of increased injuries is far larger than any risk from COVID-19 and a fall season. The spring season idea is presented just a bridge to cancelling the season completely. Don’t be fooled by that. Spring football is not going to happen in major conference football. The Big Ten thought they would get the jump on everyone else and force them to follow by cancelling the season. They did this with conference only schedules and everyone else started to follow. This time it backfired. Apparently, they thought the SEC’s slogan “It just means more” was just a slogan. It’s not just a slogan. We are serious about college football in the SEC and it really does mean more.
Parents of Big Ten players have been protesting at the league’s office. Justin Fields, who is generally considered one of the top 2 quarterbacks in college football and the highest profile player in the Big Ten, has been working overtime to try and get the Big Ten to play by starting a petition and by covering it extensively on social media. Powers Warren, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren’s son is practicing and playing at Mississippi State. Dad dad touts the Big Ten line that it isn’t safe to play while his own son does exactly that. The Big Ten and Pac 12 have cited risks of myocarditis as a main factor in not playing college football. The Big Ten is reported to have relied on a medical report that was horribly flawed and referred to by top cardiologists as “gibberish”. Meanwhile, the other leagues are relying on medical data from Dr. Michael Ackerman, head of the Mayo Clinic’s Sudden Death Genomics Lab and hero of college football, among others, who have said that risk myocarditis is insignificant enough to not be a consideration in whether or not to play football in the fall. Several teams from the Big Ten are considering or have head coaches and/or ADs pushing for a revolt from the Big Ten for the season in order to play, including Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska.
No sport owns a day like college football owns Saturday with the possible exception of the NFL and Sunday. Saturday in the fall means college football for half of Americans. There is no better way to get back to a sense of normalcy than seeing college football on Saturday. After all the canceled events, mask wearing and turmoil we have seen, nothing says we are getting back to normal like some heads crashing in college football. People of different incomes, races, interests, faiths and political parties all come together, high-fiving and cheering for a common goal. The stands won’t be full, as the other leagues will look more like a typical Pac 12 game with 25% capacity, but at least they will be playing.
So how does all of this affect Donald Trump? Trump is the incumbent. He needs normal to return. He has firmly planted his flag on the side of playing college football. He needs it to happen. College football is a microcosm of the entire debate over COVID-19. This issue has irrational decision making with major implications on the lives of millions of other people. It is all based on political agendas, over-reaction, panic porn and fear and then the rejection of all of them. It has junk science. It has “experts” with opposite opinions on the same issue. It has the same breathless, panicked media (sports media has all bias and twice the dumb of news media) advocating to drive themselves out of a job by cancelling college football. The Democrat party is firmly on the side of panic porn, shut downs, fear and government mandates to disrupt your life to the maximum extent possible. Playing college football is a big win for Trump and a big win for a return to normal. It is a big win for rational thought, risk management and science. It plays out on a stage largely untainted by politics, but one that will have a major impact on the election in 2020.
Many of the states that Trump will need to win are right in the heart of this controversy, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. If Michigan and Ohio State fans are watching Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma play in September, October and November, that is not going to sit well. Meanwhile, you have President Trump advocating for everyone to play and the Democrats screeching at how everyone will die because of it. The contrast will playing out right before their eyes, on a stage that directly affects them. We understand how politics affects our lives, but to many people who aren’t political junkies, it is a distant process. Those Michigan and Ohio State fans will get a real reminder every Saturday when Alabama is playing and their teams are sitting at home as to what life is like when Trump gets his way and when the Democrats get theirs. That is a lesson that gets taught over again every Saturday, leading right up to the election.
Another issue that this brings up is a spirit of rebellion. We have players, parents and schools in open rebellion against their conference. The SEC, ACC, Big 12 and their allies have already in essence told the NCAA to go pound sand. The NCAA has cancelled all fall sports and has been playing the part of Chicken Little with their “experts”. Thankfully, they don’t control college football and these leagues have told them where to stick their opinions. This is good. It adds powerful people and groups in open rebellion against the insanity of these “experts” that want to control our lives. That eases the burden of this environment and tilts people toward the mindset of wanting to open it up, wanting to return to normal. That is where Donald Trump has now positioned himself. If the Big Ten reverses course or some of the teams bolt, that just reinforces this mindset of getting success by rebelling against the insanity. We could use our own chance to toss some tea into the Boston Harbor.
Lastly, college football gives Trump several chances to get in front of 25,000 people in person and millions more watching on TV. He gets to wave to the crowd, see the anthem sung and receive the largest applause that he ever gets, outside of his own rallies. College football fans in the south love Trump. When he attended the Alabama-LSU game last year, he got roaring applause and chants of “U.S.A.” It was so strong that even CNN and MSN had to call it “enthusiastic” and “cheered overwhelmingly”. When they won’t even deny it, you know that it was massive. By playing college football, Trump gets to showcase his love of America, gets to be seen in support of it and gets to highlight the fact that he was out front and in favor of playing.
It may seem like an odd connection, but college football has the ability to carry Trump over the victory line. He needs good, positive developments and a return to normal. College football provides all of these in one package. It applies them subtilty, in an non-political format or as much of one as is currently possible. Playing football makes this case to half to Americans every week in the two months leading up the election, the size of the platform that is unrivaled by anything but the NFL.
If Donald Trump wins reelection on Nov 3, he will have college football to thank.