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September 25, 2020


CU was in the stretch of its 2019 home season when Evan Price made this game-winning, 37-yard field goal with no time left to give the Buffaloes a 16-13 win over Pac- 12 rival Stanford on Nov. 9. If all goes as (re-)planned, CU won't open its 2020 season until nearly a year later.


The Pac 12 decided it couldn't afford to be left out.


The plan announced Thursday to stage a seven-game football season, beginning the weekend of Nov. 6-7, would preserve television income and other cuts of the action.   

To the league's credit, that's still six weeks away. The hope is the timetable will allow for sufficient preparation. That, plus that conditions will allow for the implementation of the plan, rather than lead to another scrubbing and additional disappointment.


Breakthroughs and arrangements for frequent and widespread COVID-19 testing were crucial in the decision, and it allows the Pac-12 to avoid being the only Power 5 league to skip fall football in favor of playing an abbreviated season next spring.   


But one of the most jarring aspects of the plan was expressed almost as an afterthought.


As in, oh, by the way ...


No fans.


Not even cheer squads and bands.


And I inferred this: In Boulder, the new Ralphie won't even be able to make the rumbling run around Folsom Field.


With live spectators being gradually worked in to the formulas in other leagues and sites, including with the Broncos starting Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Pac-12 approach is a stark contrast. The league's own declaration takes pressure and the onus off local and state authorities otherwise empowered to set the guidelines. 


In Pac-12 territory, other isssues are involved, including COVID 19 outbreaks, returns to online-only classes and wildfires on the West Coast. 


CU, with Karl Dorrell already at a considerable disadvantage in the early stages of his tenure, will be hoping to get his program going against a trying backdrop that includes the Boulder County Health Department's two-week ban on all all gatherings or 18-to-22-year olds in Boulder. In other words, entering a classroom, partying on off-campus (partying on ... at CU?), and practicing football is all verboten until at least the second week of October.


But now the Pac-12 is going to try to soldier on in football and basketball, too.


I'm not going to second-guess the decision so much as raise my eyebrows and admit the mixed messages from so many -- even the players -- confused me . I don't pretend to be an expert at any of this, including epidemiology; the effects and risks of practicing and playing; and the possible perils of allowing limited crowds back in stadiums ... and elsewhere.     


This is what I don't get: In Pac-12 country, if caution still is so appropriate, and even extraordinary compared to other leagues, why even play Pac-12 football at all this fall?    


Why not stick with the plan to shut down most sports through the rest of the calendar year and play in the spring? Again, the TV money and CFP issues come into play, but this doesn't seem to have been considered: What if, among the Power 5 leagues, the Pac-12 had the stage to itself in the spring? Wouldn't that mitigate some of the damages from skipping the fall? (I know ... it didn't work for the USFL, but it should have.)      


If the answer is that it's all about the money, or mainly the money, that's disgraceful.


Of course, this all has been confusing. It wasn't that long ago that Pac-12 players seemingly were mustering forces for a rebellion in a manifesto published in the Players' Tribune. Safety concerns were a major part of the charges of exploitation. The exact number of "Players of the Pac-12" involved never was clear. It was an eloquent manifesto of mixed credibility, with grievances and demands both reasonable and ridiculous.


And before that sunk in and was addressed, the demand semed to change to: Let us play!


As sports move toward what will pass for "normalcy" -- they'll never be the same -- it's now clear that the denialist viewpoint has gained momentum.


As in ... 202,000 deaths?


A drop in the bucket.


Survival of the fittest.


Among the young, the COVID-19 fatality rate is especially minimal, though the virus eventually might cause heart complications.


Those on and off campus, including in instances such as Sturgis, that are cavalier about social distancing and wearing masks don't get that the major issue isn't the risk to themselves, but the possibility of passing the virus along to those at greater risk.             


What's this have to do with Pac-12 football?


If it isn't safe -- yet -- it isn't safe.