Saturday, September 19, 2020

Big 10 gets antsy in the pocket(book)

Daily Inter Lake | September 16, 2020 12:00 AM

The Big 10 has long been the conference of I-formations and straight ahead run plays, and you know what else you see a lot of in that league? Punting.

That’s what the conference did Wednesday, announcing in so many words that, You know, never mind what we said before, we’re going to play football (and only football) this fall after all. So this tradition-heavy league (not you Nebraska) will have non-traditional training camps ahead of an eight-week, conference-only season beginning Oct. 23-24.

While I remain cautiously optimistic about high school sports in Montana, this decision is all Money Talks and Science Walks. It will be another non-bubble sport playing for TV money, and where’s that money going to go? To save the Minnesota track and field team?

I bring up that because a) how stupid the Gophers were to bag the sport and b) because another Montanan, Billings Senior product Dawson LaRance, knows better than me how misguided it was: “Our program has been through two world wars and a depression,” the Minnesota middle distance runner told “Why can’t our department figure this out during a pandemic?”

The school’s cheapest sport will now likely survive, thanks to member schools risking the exposure of ever more athletes to COVID-19. I’m sure that’s the trade-off they had in mind, right? Unless – hear me out – the TV money makes rapid testing and tracing of athletes financially feasible at Power Five schools.

As for you non-athletes, sorry about this but the money only goes so far. And I know you USC undergrads thought you were all in this together, but you should expect the Pac-12 to fall in behind this march toward herd immunity. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has already put out a cloudy statement that seems to imply, Hey, there’s a season there if our schools want it.

Lexington (Kentucky) Herald columnist John Clay points out that if a Big 10 team gets to five percent positivity rate, it shuts down for seven days. Boom, there goes a game. And if a football player tests positive he can’t return for 21 days following the diagnosis. That’s a big chunk out of an eight-week season.

The flip side is that these Football Bowl Subdivision schools have 85 scholarships and talented walk-ons besides, and many of these players truly want to play this fall.

But I can’t help feeling the pros don’t outweigh the cons. So many games involving SEC and ACC schools have already been postponed or canceled. In the Big 10, as USA Today’s Christine Brennan points out, Michigan State just asked its students to self-quarantine after the school announced 342 new positives.

Scholarships allow many student-athletes to experience new cultures and life experiences for which they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Here is another case where that lofty ideal takes a back seat to dollar signs.

College football in the spring poses a challenge, but what’s wrong with meeting new challenges? Instead we get a hardly-novel approach by college athletic departments to this novel coronavirus: Get to work, kids, and we’ll count the money.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or at