Mark Bradley: For better or worse, college football has begun


There already has been more college football than I figured there would be. (Doesn’t say much for me as a seer, huh?) It involved Austin Peay, which lost to Central Arkansas 24-17 on Saturday in large part because the Governors ran low on long snappers.

We in sports journalism have our little joke. When a fellow scribe says he/she might need to write about a long snapper, that means he/she has exhausted all other ideas, coverage-wise. The long snapper usually sees action only to snap the ball, duh, a long way — as for punts. Nice work if you can get it, but not quite the 21st century equivalent of the Four Horseman riding past Grantland Rice.

Austin Peay was missing three — that’s correct, three — long snappers. The school didn’t say exactly why, but everybody made the same guess: They either tested positive for COVID-19 or interacted with someone who had. As if on cue, the Governors’ backup-backup-backup snapper hiked the pig over the punter’s head and later dribbled a roller between the punter’s legs. Central Arkansas banked points off both snafus.

But still: Austin Peay played. It now has two — that’s correct, two — games remaining. The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t doing fall sports, but the OVC member based in Clarksville, Tenn., sort of is. The Govs are scheduled to face Pittsburgh on Sept. 12 and Cincinnati on Sept. 19. Then they’re done.

The point being: Austin Peay of the shuttered OVC is jumping through figurative hoops just to say it played a little football, even as the watching world — some of it, anyway — wonders if college football needs to be played.

Georgia Tech expects to welcome 11,000 folks into Bobby Dodd Stadium for home games this fall. Georgia State has announced its intentions to allow “a maximum of 50% capacity” at Center Parc Stadium, formerly Turner Field. Capacity at CPS is 24,000. The local NFL franchise, which plays within two miles of Tech’s and GSU’s stadiums, will not open to fans for two September games. Same city, same state, same sport. Different protocols.

The University of Georgia, based 70 miles from Atlanta, hopes to allow 23,000 to attend each of its four home games. Twenty-three thousand is one-fourth of Sanford Stadium’s capacity. This should provide for a measure of social distancing, not that UGA has a firm grasp on the concept. After Saturday’s scrimmage, the Bulldogs tweeted a photo of families and fans mixing with players and coaches in the stands. “Socially distanced we may sit,” read the tweet, “but united we move forward.”

Except: The accompanying picture indicated otherwise. Not many were sitting six feet apart. Not everyone was wearing a mask, which will be required for Sanford admittance this season. Do as we say, not as we do?

We’re into September. Tech opens on the 12th, Georgia State the 19th, Georgia the 26th. Kennesaw State has no opener, its season having been scrubbed. Among FBS conferences, the most notable scrubbing has been done by the Big Ten, although reports hold that some in that league hope to start playing by Thanksgiving. (Just how, we ask, might that work?) Not to be outdone, the president of these United States called Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren on Tuesday to lobby for playing immediately.

Tweeted our president: “Would be good (great!) for everyone — Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”

Note: The Big Ten includes schools in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, all considered swing states. News flash: This is an election year.

Also: LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who would have been one of the nation’s five best collegiate players, has opted out. So have 10 Central Florida players. Tech is scheduled to face UCF on Sept. 19.

Also: A football field has two 1-yard lines. Our president didn’t specify which.

Tech’s media department sent an email Tuesday announcing the times of its first two games — 3:30 p.m. for both — and mentioned Bobby Dodd Stadium’s new seating policy. To Tech’s credit, the email held this qualifier: “ … should the season be able to be carried out as currently planned.”

Six FBS conferences stand ready to play. Nobody knows how long they can keep going. Then again, we said the same about big-league baseball, and somehow MLB forges ahead. It has had to contend with positive tests — though, in the grand scheme, not many — by canceling a game or a series, but it made it through August. (And really, all baseball cares about is getting to October.) The NBA and NHL playoffs are ongoing in their respective bubbles. MLS has restarted. Sports ARE being played.

That said, no other sport contains the full-contact element of football, and colleges can’t just worry about football players. They’ve got full enrollments to shepherd through a pandemic, and the level of guidance varies from, from state to state, from conference to conference, from day to day. By pushing back their start dates, the SEC and ACC and Big 12 bought time and got lucky: The still-grim virus numbers aren’t as grim as they were a month ago. So that’s something.

My default position was that I would believe there would be a college football season only when somebody played. Somebody has. Austin Peay played, albeit minus its long snappers. Toe met leather. For better or worse, this is happening. Socially distanced we may (or may not) sit, but here we go.


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