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Why the ACC Will Wait to Postpone Football

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The Big 10 and Pac 12 have officially moved to the spring, but why the hesitation from Greensboro?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Clemson at North Carolina

In a move that came as most thought it would, the Big 10 made it official on Tuesday with the call to postpone all fall sports until the spring, the biggest one, of course, being football.

A short time later, the PAC 12 followed suit

It’s a decision that has the feel of inevitability to it once COVID 19 cases continued to rise across the country, and the fabled “wait and do nothing” approach seemed to come up short in being able to have meaningful football games. As Brandon talked about yesterday, it’s ridiculous that conferences have had since mid-March to have some sort of contingency plan in place while leagues like MLB, the NBA, and NHL all were able to come up with plans and get games going.

Removing the politics and screaming back and forth on Twitter about the value of the decision, it’s worth gazing over to John Swofford in the ACC offices in Greensboro and wonder when they will join the crowd. The conference knew that question was coming and went on a full court press to let people know they were not planning on calling things off anytime soon:

Dr. Wolfe has some credentials, as his bio lists him as an infectious disease expert over at Duke Medical — not a position one gets by just walking in the door. Aside from being the expert, he’s also part of the team researching the use of one of the drugs on COVID patients, so he’s right in the thick of research of the disease. Thus, the ACC can say they are getting expert advice as they move forward. To further emphasize this, the conference came out with their own statement:

Thus, despite the dominoes, the conference for now appears to be continuing a wait and see approach. Because of this, it may be a while before they make an ultimate decision. Why? Here are a few reasons:

Students are already on campus

A reminder that the same day the ACC released their schedule last week, UNC released footage of the football team running drills and competing in practice. The rest of the UNC Student Body is now on campus, and at least to start, there will be an attempt to try to have some semblance of a college experience. Logic dictates here that you want to see how things are progressing on campus before you decide that the situation is beyond repair. Campuses may end up making the decision for you by closing down due to an outbreak, but if each campus manages to contain any outbreak, it’s tough to justify closing everything down.

Wishful thinking? Probably, especially with the first pictures from on and near campuses already showing plenty of gatherings that ignore basic social safety measures. We haven’t seen quite the explosion in positive cases that this would seem to imply, which gives colleges and the ACC cover to say that despite the optics, we don’t actually know that moving forward isn’t safe. Coaches want a season to happen, and will clearly be emphasizing this to their team.

Easier to contain on campus

This has popped up in a few places, but one thing that’s tough to argue is that players themselves are probably safer on campus than at home in this sense: because the country still doesn’t have easy access to testing, they are much more likely to get caught while being asymptomatic on campus with the magnifying glass on them than they would be at home, mixing with a different population. This means cases would be caught sooner, containing an outbreak.

You need to look no further than UNC to see how this can work. Before all the news broke yesterday, Mack Brown gave a press conference to address his feelings and how his staff and team were doing. You may recall that it wasn’t too long on returning that Carolina had to take a pause on practicing because of an outbreak of cases. Not much has been heard since, so Mack was asked about the current state of cases:

Furthermore, Associate AD Rick Steinbacher appeared on the Carolina Insider Podcast with Jones Angell and Adam Lucas, and pointed out that the positives had been traced to off-campus events. The quick positives allowed the team to pull apart, contain the outbreak, and get back to work. A month of zero positives is remarkable, and is likely what the ACC is looking at when considering whether to pull the plug.

Furthermore, Mack addressed what it would take for a player that tests positive to get back on the field:

In short, on campus players are getting access to tests quicker, as well as access to healthcare quicker to make sure it’s safe for them to return, and the turnaround in positive cases on the football team has shown how serious the team is taking precautions. If teams are able to keep the virus off their team with constant testing, then having a contact sport, presumably, could be done at minimum risk of transmission. Theoretically.

Money

Let’s just call a spade a spade, here. Bubba Cunningham has already announced the massive financial shortfall the school would be facing without football and basketball, and the main source of that revenue, TV, hasn’t exactly been magnanimous in saying they’ll go ahead and pay the conferences for games that aren’t played. They are paying for a product, and without a product the schools don’t get money, a problem that has already seen the loss of several sports across the country. It’s also cost several staff members jobs, including Pat James, formerly of GoHeels and the SID for Women’s Lacrosse.

So when you say “money” it’s not just the money coming in, but the very real fact that a decision to postpone the season would put all 15 AD’s in a bad spot of having to let a lot of people go. It’s a decision with massive implications that doesn’t seem to have been properly appreciated until conferences started pulling the plug.

The ACC, along with the SEC and Big 12, also realize they may be inadvertently be sitting on a way to make up for the revenue of lost fans. If those three manage to play, they are going to possibly create more inventory that could go to a needy network suddenly without product. Fox Sports made a big bet with the BIG 10, and with them gone, they could possibly be in a position to want to fill in holes with what’s available. ESPN, and thus the other conferences, could cash in by creating a temporary sharing agreement that also raises the profile of their member schools.

Maybe it’s pie in the sky thinking, in fact it probably is, but the money implications are so massive for the member schools that the conferences seems content to see how things shake out a little closer to games being played.

Time

We’re still a month away from the first games being played in the conference, and that’s with two off weeks built into the schedule that could be moved around if needed. As Mask mandates have become more prominent even in the holdout states, and the message seems to be sinking in that the only way for college football to happen would be for people take them seriously, it’s possible that in a couple of weeks things will finally flatten out more to the point where teams will feel safe about traveling to sites as needed.

It also is plenty of time to show that it just isn’t possible for this to happen, and if we are being honest with ourselves that’s what most of us are thinking the outcome will be. Still, if the kids are already there and practicing, and games aren’t going to happen for at least a month, what’s the harm in taking a breath and seeing how things shake out?

So, don’t expect the ACC to make a decision any time soon. The time to do that was Tuesday if they wanted to join the other two P5 conferences, and it’s clear the ACC wants to make it abundantly clear they had no other choice if their decision ends up being the same.