SEC’s Decision To Go Conference-Only Sign of Bigger Mess

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Razorback football

-Tommy Foltz

The great patchwork quilt that is sports in the year 2020 isn’t a pretty thing to look at.

The latest piece was stitched in Thursday, when the SEC announced that its teams would play 10 conference games only. So, for Hog fans, that means bye-bye Notre Dame and (potential) rent-a-wins versus Nevada, Louisiana-Monre and Charleston Southern. Hello, two as-yet-to-be-named SEC East teams.

The SEC and other Power 5 conferences (with the exception of the Big 12) going to conference-only is only one way in a thousand that different sports leagues, from youth through pro, are trying to squeeze any ounce of normalcy from playing in these unprecedented times.

Sometimes what they’re doing makes sense, but in some instances they are showing as much logic as Mack’s Fish House in Heber Springs, which I visited last week.

At the door, I was turned away for not wearing a mask. Statewide mandate and all. So, I went to my car, grabbed my mask and was welcomed with open arms.  Once inside, I was free to remove my mask.

In other words, eating about a one hour meal required wearing a mask for one minute.  I’d be lying to you if I told you this was any better strategy to “stop the spread” than the “under-manned with no real plan” strategy employed by former Hogs DC John Chavis in trying to “stop the spread” offenses of the Southeastern Conference these last couple of seasons. (Thank God Chavis is now coaching middle school.)

CONSISTENCY?

Our sports league commissioners, athletic directors and university presidents are all consistent in their media statements that have a shared message along these lines:  “We are relying on the medical experts to tell us how to proceed.”

But there’s a problem.

While the “medical experts” are all looking at the same data to advise the athletic and academic administrators, the athletic and academic administrators are coming up with different strategies based on that same data set. 

FOR INSTANCE

—The NFL announced last week that, with particular protocols to be followed, it’s business as usual.  

—The Southwestern Athletic Conference is postponing its season until spring 2021. No games, or game revenue, for UAPB this fall.

—Some smaller conferences are looking at various scenarios of between 8 and 10 games.

—High school athletic associations in California, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana are all over the board on this issue.  (Some, like California, are going to spring football.)

But, the winner for inconsistency is Texas.  Their plan is to let all 1A through 4A schools move forward as scheduled while 5 and 6A schools will be delayed 5 weeks.  Please.  Someone tell me how it makes sense for two similarly aged kids from the same neighborhood, but who go to high schools in different classifications, should be treated differently on this matter.

Along those lines, look at these two headlines that appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday:  

—“Marlins, Phillies remain shut down by pandemic”

—“Fort Smith topples Russellville in final”

So, here we have a professional baseball team being shut down by the virus, but amateur baseball in Arkansas is just skipping merrily along to the completion of its AAA American Legion state championship.  What are we doing here?  

HERE’S THE DEAL:

I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but I’m having trouble figuring out how any of this makes a lick of sense.  What am I missing here?

Are we trying to:

Protect the players?  Sure, but nobody’s wearing a face mask out there on the diamond.  And the players, whether in high school, pro or any point in between are among the least likely to be adversely affected by catching the virus.

The fans?  If that was truly the case, and athletic directors were following the data to a tee, then they wouldn’t allow any stadium to be open to crowds. UT-Austin, for instance, was considering 50% capacity (about 50,000 fans) but is now looking at dropping down to 25% capacity.

The families of the players?  Sure, but here’s a little tidbit of news for you:  People between 15 and 30 years of age don’t need to play on an organized sports team to bring the virus home to their families. Just because they’re not playing organized teams doesn’t mean they still aren’t gathering in some form or fashion.

Finally, what happened to the idea of “choice?”  When smokers choose to smoke, they go outside to subject others to their second-hand smoke.

Parents get a choice to stop their kids from busting Tik Tok dances all over the living room floor, and get the right to make them change the TV channel to something more appropriate.  Fans are just as free to determine whether their risk factors are high enough to either walk in, or stay out, of the stadium.  

Just as people are free to take the advice of a president who is touting a drug used to treat malaria to treat COVID-19, even though NOBODY in the medical community agrees that’s advisable. 

But, let’s not forget one thing. 

Just like in most instances today, cancer is not a death sentence, nor is COVID-19.  Out of the more than 490,000 tested in Arkansas, we have lost 434 to the virus.  In other words, there is about a 99.99% chance that if you go to, or play in, organized sports you will NOT die from Covid-19.  

We need to keep that in perspective.  Yes, this virus has impacted the lives of those who live and play around us.  But it also likely hampered the livelihoods of the same people, and that also impacts lives and has disrupts society.

The least we should be able to ask for are overarching policies make sense and show consistency.  Until then, COVID-19 will make America look like a Chad Morris-coached Razorback team, losing battles along the way with no end in sight.

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More details about the SEC’s new conference-only schedule:

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