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Big Ten scrubs football season, but NFL full-steam ahead

Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski  practises at AdventHealth Training Center. The NFL still is going ahead with its season.
Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski practises at AdventHealth Training Center. The NFL still is going ahead with its season.

On the same day two top U.S. college football leagues scrapped their fall seasons, the NFL underscored its intention to proceed as planned.

We’ll get to the latter eventually. First, it’s important to address what the Big Ten conference was first to decide Tuesday afternoon, and what went into it.

The league composed of 14 leading academic and athletic universities from the American Midwest eastward to the upper Atlantic Coast officially announced that all fall sports, including football, have been scrubbed.

“SMH,” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields tweeted shortly afterward. That’s the social-media acronym for “shaking my head.”

The Big Ten said the possibility of holding some kind of football season next spring will “continue to be evaluated,” and you can bet that league coaches and athletic directors will collectively wrack their brains to try to make that work somehow.

If not, the next time Fields and many other top Big Ten and Pac-12 juniors/seniors-to-be play football probably will be in the NFL, in fall 2021.

Numerous lesser NCAA leagues had previously pulled the plug on all fall 2020 sports (a move Canadian universities and colleges made in June), but the Big Ten is the first of the so-called Power 5 conferences at U.S. college football’s uppermost tier to do so.

The Pac-12 conference — composed mostly of West Coast universities such as Southern Cal, Stanford and UCLA — hours later followed the Big Ten’s lead and cancelled all fall sports.

Whether the other three leading conferences might do likewise is the huge remaining question. The Southeastern Conference (SEC), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Big-12 on Tuesday seemed intent on playing their trimmed seasons.

Just six days earlier the Big Ten had announced a 10-game, conference-only schedule beginning in September. What changed?

“The over-arching issue that we always had to keep at the top of our mind was the fact … that the health, the safety and the wellness —both physical and mental — of our student-athletes was going to be at the top of my list,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Big Ten Network.

“As things began to evolve, you look at the number of cases that are spiking, the number of deaths (from COVID-19) … We just believe, collectively, there’s too much uncertainty at this point in time in our country to encourage our student-athletes to participate in fall sports. Understand also that they are not professionals. These are amateur athletes and they deserve an opportunity to participate in a healthy and safe manner.”

ESPN had reported Monday night that a rare inflammation of the heart muscle — myocarditis — had been found in at least five Big Ten football players who’d previously tested positive for COVID-19. That surely was an impactful factor in the league’s sudden about-face.

The Big Ten backed its decision by pointing to recommendations it received from the league’s task force for emerging infectious diseases, as well as from its sports medicine committee. Conversely, Sports Business Daily earlier Tuesday reported that the ACC’s medical advisory group had given its OK for that league’s fall football season to proceed.

Yes, even in college sports, recommendations from top medical experts do not always jibe. This is yet more proof since March that there always seemingly will be prominent medical experts and virologists the world over — never mind politicians — who don’t and won’t ever agree on the right ways to battle COVID-19.

For instance, surely every school board in Canada or the United States has cited a recommendation from some prominent medical group to back its decision to either have children return to school in the weeks ahead, or continue learning strictly remotely from home.

In a way, medical experts are akin to pro-sports GMs.

Just as no one in football, hockey, baseball or basketball knows more about potential draftees than the GMs — going back to why some prospect might have got into trouble in grade school — in the end, on draft day, they’re still guessing. Their guesses are more educated than ours, but they’re guessing just the same. That’s why the number of quarterbacks selected in Round 1 of the NFL draft in the decade just concluded that did not pan out outnumbered those that did.

Similarly, if you’ll pardon this further aside, all the medical experts we see on TV, or learn about in the news such as the conference medical experts above, in the end — as well-intentioned as they are — are merely guessing as to the best course of action.

For proof of that, see famed Dr. Anthony Fauci, who just seven months ago said COVID-19 wasn’t anything to worry about, and who just four months ago said there was no need for the widespread wearing of protective face coverings, something Canadian health leaders also said at the time. Well, facts and knowledge changed; those medical folks rightly adjusted.

Look, the only people sure about what should have been done regarding COVID-19 weeks or months ago have some deep-seeded political axe to grind. The rest of us live in the real world.

Anyway, back to football. Colleges aside, what about the NFL?

It’s still full steam ahead for that pro league.

The NFL on Tuesday underscored its intention to play a full 17-week regular-season schedule and usual post-season playoffs, culminating with Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

“We’re very confident in our (COVID-19) protocols, and focused on a season that … starts and ends as scheduled,” Peter O’Reilly, the league’s executive VP for club business and league events, told reporters on a video conference call, per TheAthletic.com.

“That said, obviously, we are about being flexible and being adaptable. We’ve lived that. Everybody has had to live that over these recent months, and we are no exception to that.”

Indeed, facts and knowledge about COVID-19 and how it might affect a couple thousand cloistered, grown men in fabulous physical condition who soon will be routinely slobber-knocking spit into one another’s faces are sure to change.

Continually.

Everything’s fluid, folks. As we’ve all had to get used to since March.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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