College football is a billion-dollar-a-year industry that plays a part in the American sports landscape. According to the NCAA, college football programs had an average revenue of over $100 million in 2019. Like most things in 2020, the season was in jeopardy of being canceled due to the COVID-19. College presidents and athletic directors from different states came together via Zoom to save the season.
“#We want to Play” tweets from the country’s most prominent college players, like Trevor Lawrence, and “we need college football” tweets from President Trump applied pressure to the NCAA Leadership to get a season started. The most glaring issue facing the decision-makers was the players’ safety.
The fact that the student-athletes did not have a voice in these Zoom meetings or have a say in the safety protocols tells me that the colleges are only worried about the bottom line. Colleges want to protect their revenue.
The college football player is considered an amateur athlete and they do not share in the revenue that the schools are making. They also do not share in decisions that may affect their safety, unlike professional leagues such as the NFL, MLB, and NBA where players belong to unions and have a seat at the table to discuss all matters. For the college football player, their only advocate may be a coach employed by the college.
The top 40 college football coaches make more than four million dollars a year and, according to the NCAA database, coaches account for 19% of the program’s overall expenses.
Nick Saban, head football coach for the University of Alabama and the top paid coach in the country at $9.1 million a year, said, “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home.” Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19 on October 14, 2020.
On August 18, 2020, the University of North Carolina closed its campus after 130 students tested positive for COVID-19. Despite that, the football team stayed on campus and continued to prep for the season. They played a game on September 12, 2020, and the college decided to close campus for student safety. However, it still felt as though it was safe enough for the student-athletes to stay on campus. Are they protecting their students or their revenue?
Baylor University had 28 football players who tested positive for COVID-19 on October 12, 2020. University of Florida coach, Dan Mullen, tested positive for COVID-19 after he called for the Florida stadium to be filled to capacity (90,000 fans) for the game against Louisiana State University. The game was scheduled for October 18, 2020, but has since been canceled. My question to Nick Saban would be, “Are players really a lot safer with you?”
What should colleges do? Outside of the colleges, players, coaches and many Americans depend on college football to support local businesses. To start, each college should release their safety protocols. How are they handling fans, media, and travel? How will they handle team meals? Will everyone who may come in contact with their student-athletes get tested? How regular are the student-athletes being tested? Is contact-tracing being conducted and how? Colleges in the North and West parts of the country will begin playing soon. How will they protect the players? Colleges are putting their student-athletes at risk, and they are not allowing them a voice at the table. This sounds more like tyranny than a sport.