The ACC released its colorful new schedule in a Wednesday news dump, and a tremor was felt across the South.
College football, at least for a day or so, seemed to have a road map, albeit with no dates or starting times or travel plans. And once again, the ACC seemed to have cornered the SEC.
We know what happened next. Our neighbors basically blew everything up the next day, refusing to honor the rivalry “plus one” games, breaking the hearts of South Carolinians. Now all we have is a colorful new schedule with no clue where it leads.
But hey, Notre Dame is in the ACC.
That in itself is a coup. Even if no games are played, and every day that seems more and more likely, for a brief and shining moment, ACC commissioner John Swofford has done the impossible. The ACC has hauled in the Fighting Irish, NBC and all.
People are working hard to figure out what to do next. It’s like the dog chasing the car. He never planned on what he would do if he actually caught it.
Athletics directors and coaches and school administrators are scrambling now. Students are coming onto campus. Football teams are working out. COVID-19 cases are spiking, and reality is setting in. And no one seems to have any answers.
I spent most of Friday trying to get one simple questioned answered. How do you move an entire football team from here to, say, Miami? No one wanted to answer me. I called school officials and the travel company in charge of arranging travel plans for virtually every university in the country.
No one at Anthony Travel has called me back. They’re located in South Bend, by the way.
The only person who seemed to have an answer was Mack Brown, whose response was basically, “ I don’t know.” At least he tried.
“We have a lot of bus trips,” said, alluding to the schedule released on Wednesday. “We take three flights. We go to Boston, we go to Tallahassee and we go to Miami. I’m sure now the airlines have worked really, really hard at being safe. I don’t know how many planes that means we’ll take. I don’t know if we have to cut our numbers of players that go, our people on the sidelines.”
It sounds like a lot of money is going to be needed to move a football team across state lines. It sounds like travel, even using buses, is going to cost an enormous amount of money to move teams, coaches, support staff and the equipment and do so under CDC guidelines.
Miami will travel at least 4,329 miles to complete its schedule. Presumably, there will be no buses.
Even if we don’t play a game this year, we’re learning lessons on the fly. The ACC could play this schedule every year if Notre Dame were willing to hang around. It would make for better Saturdays with rivalry games almost every weekend, new NBC money that would be the envy of all of college football.
The game is too expensive in the current model. Coaches make way too much money. Facilities are obscene. Conferences are way too scattered. Travel costs are exorbitant.
The ACC and the SEC need each other. The Southeastern decision to lop off Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville and Florida-Florida State was foolish and petulant. These games are bigger than Commissioner Greg Sankey wants to admit. He and Swofford need to clean this up.
The biggest lessons learned will be about common sense. Players are uncomfortable, whether they want to admit it or not. They’re worried about what happens when the rest of the student body arrives and the bars open and the house parties crank up.
Brown, a coach with more sense than most, expressed his concerns when asked how in the world are we thinking about playing football in a pandemic.
“I just wish we all would do what we’re told to do,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll start listening and wearing our mask and social distancing.”
He added a sobering admission that sounds so simple in this uncertain time.
“If at any point the doctors say it’s not safe to play, we won’t play,” he said. “I mean if it’s not safe for anybody, the fans or media or the bands or the people with concessions, or the people for security and safety, if it’s not safe for anybody, we won’t play. That’s the big question moving forward.”
Ultimately, that’s the biggest lesson to come out of all this. We can kick the can down the road, and we can release pretty schedules and we can talk about playing football while keeping players safe from the virus and argue all day long about what is smart and what is stupid.
But if this week showed us anything, it’s that the current athletics model in America is broken, and no one seems to have answers about anything.
But hey, Notre Dame is in the ACC.