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Will California ruin college football for the rest of us?

It’s no secret that America loves its college football, and there’s no doubt that over the last couple weeks, the conversation about the 2020 college football season has shifted.

Whereas six weeks ago, the conversation was, “Will college football be played at all?” the new conversation that being had is, “Will California screw up college football for the rest of us?” That’s because as more and more states continue to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, and more and more school presidents – ranging from Georgia to Oregon and everywhere in between – are proclaiming that they plan to have students on campus in the fall, California appears to be the one, last holdout nationally. While restrictions are slowly starting to loosen within the state (more on that below) it does feel like California could be – to use a term from my buddy Tim Brando – the “fly in the ointment” to the start of a successful college football season.

And that’s not really an opinion, but instead a fact, with two big stories coming out this week to hammer that point home. One, we had several national media members speculate that a Week 1 matchup between USC and Alabama might not happen. After all, if Los Angeles doesn’t loosen restrictions and USC’s players can’t get back to campus to prepare for the season, that game could be cancelled. ESPN’s Paul Finebaum went so far as to say that Alabama is already making back-up plans in case USC is unavailable for the game.

Two, the Cal-State school system, a set of 23 campuses across the state of California, announced their plan to go to online only classes for the fall. While that does not impact any Pac-12 schools, it does mean that three FBS football playing schools (San Diego State, Fresno State, San Jose State) aren’t expected to have students on campus this fall. If the campuses aren’t open, the thought is they can’t play games. And if they can’t play games, that messes up not only the Mountain West schedule, but also any out of conference games those schools are involved in. As it pertains to major “brands” in college football, Fresno State was scheduled to play at Texas A&M in early October, potentially putting that game at risk. Same with San Jose State’s trip to Penn State, a few weeks earlier.

So yeah, it wasn’t a great week if you love college football, and again, it does feel like the media sentiment has swung in favor of, “We’re going to have to figure out a way to play college football without these schools in California.”

Yet, I live in California and am not buying it.

I’m not saying that it is 100 percent that college football will open Week 1. I’m not saying things might not be delayed by an extra week or two, or some out of conference games cancelled. I’m not even saying the in-person experience of college football might be different (masks for fans?) or there might be no fans at all. No one, not Mark Emmert, Greg Sankey or Nick Saban can say that with certainty.

But after talking to people all across the college sports landscape these last couple months, I do believe college football will be played in the fall, and it will include those California schools.

To explain why, I wanted to separate some fact from fiction as it pertains to the state of California, and then share what it means for the college football season as a whole.

(By the way, if “reading” isn’t your thing, I embedded today’s podcast, which hits on this topic, below)

First, let’s separate fact from fiction: 

My biggest personal issue with the national coverage of how California is handling coronavirus is that there are a few things that have been presented as “fact” that are simply not true. I bring this up only because a lot of things that are being misrepresented as facts are shaping the conversation around college football this fall.

Myth No. 1 – Los Angeles’s stay at home order was NOT extended for three whole months earlier this week: On Tuesday, an article surfaced from the LA Times that quickly picked up steam on social media. It stated that “in almost all certainty” stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles would be extended at least three more months.

Obviously it frustrated a lot of Los Angelinos, but as it pertains to college football, the entire country essentially had the same reaction: Well, there goes USC-Bama in Week 1. If LA is locked down through the end of July, there is no way that USC will have time to get its players back to campus and properly prepare for this game (even if they have zero percent chance to win anyway). 

Of course, like most things in life, the devil was in the details, and few people actually chose to read the article (it didn’t help that the article was behind a paywall, so many couldn’t read it even if they wanted to). Because of it, a lot of misinformation was spread quickly.

First off, the “three-month stay at home” comment was not an official government guideline. It did not come from the mayor of Los Angeles or governor of California and it did not come in a formal press conference. It was said behind closed doors, where it was never intended to be heard publicly. Then it got leaked to the media and spread all over the internet.

More importantly, the headline didn’t actually mean what most think it meant, and LA’s mayor even clarified that later that evening. It didn’t mean that Los Angelinos won’t be able to leave their houses for three months. Instead, as the mayor explained that night it meant that some form of stay-at-home orders will be in place for months to come (like most places in America). Whether that means reduced capacity restaurants, or no gyms, what the mayor claims he was trying to say was “don’t expect things to go 100 percent back to ‘normal’ any time soon.”

It does not however mean, that the citizens of Los Angeles will stay homebound for three more months. Nor does it definitively mean that USC’s football team – or any team in California – won’t be able to return to campus in the coming weeks.

Myth No. 2 – The entire state of California is NOT in lockdown either: Another misnomer nationally is that the entire state of California is in the middle of some draconian lockdown. That is not factually accurate either.

While some parts of the state (mostly where the major cities, with dense populations sit) remain in pretty extreme stay-at-home orders, there are other parts of the state that are already largely back to normal. Several counties that are less densely populated can already order sit-down service at restaurants and even in Los Angeles, public beaches, state parks and other outdoor activity areas are open.

Would many Californians like the restrictions to be loosened even further? Of course. But they have already been loosened quite significantly in recent weeks.

Myth No. 3 – The Cal-State schools that aren’t open can’t play football: A widely held belief since this lockdown began is that if there were no kids on campus, you can’t play college football. After all, college football players are college students, and if it isn’t safe to have regular students on campus, how is it safe to let them play football?

Therefore, with the Cal-State school system shut down for on-campus teaching, it must mean that San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State won’t play football this fall, right?

Well, not exactly.

First off, an important thing to note is that reports that the campus are “shut down” are somewhat inaccurate. While it’s expected that most classes will be instructed online only, there are some classes that will meet in person (mainly the ones that are impossible to teach/take part in, in an online only setting). So parts of the campus will in fact be open.

And at least at San Diego State, that is enough for their AD to say that he expects his fall sports teams to play. In a conversation this week, he still said that SDSU plans on having sports at the fall, and went so far as to even share a date that the school plans on bringing athletes back to campus (July 7th). Fresno State has also said they are planning to do everything they can to play sports in the fall, and the Mountain West themselves gave a very loose, vague statement about what the shutdown of the Cal-State schools means for its conference. It ends with the statement, “No decisions on athletics have been made.”

Point being, even without some of the schools being open in a traditional sense, it doesn’t mean that sports involving those schools are off. At least for now.

What do those facts mean for college football?

Alright, now that we got important facts out of the way, it’s time to use those facts to kind of create some consensus opinions on what it all means for college football. So before we go forward, yes, understand that below is more opinion-based than fact. But it is also highly-informed opinion (coming from people inside college athletics) and only pertains to what this all means for the sport of college football going forward.

Here are three reasons why I believe – based on the facts above – that college football will be back largely intact this fall:

Time is still on our side: I’ll give myself a little credit here, because I was one of the first people nationally to really talk about the issue of time as it pertains to college football. All the way back on April 6th I began this conversation on my podcast, explaining that to get college football started by September 1, the focus couldn’t be on September 1. Instead, the focus had to be on early to mid-July so players have time to get back to campus and have their bodies physically ready to play by Labor Day.

Still, with all that said, it doesn’t change one simple fact: Even if players have to be back on campus by early to mid-July, we still have time on our side.

If you don’t believe me, just think about this all in its simplest form.

Most of the country began the lockdown right around March 16th; that was the Monday after the NCAA Tournament and all other major sporting events were cancelled. Doing a little back of the envelope math there, it means that the country as a whole really shut down 59 days ago. Well, 59 days from now is still only July 14th. Meaning that if you take the same time from Day 1 of the shutdown to now, and extrapolate that same time into the future, we will still only be in mid-July.

That’s not a ton of time, but still plenty. Especially if you can step out of the context of focusing on today, and begin to think about where we could be 59 days from now, around the time students would have to be back on campus to start college football season on time.

What I mean by that is very simply this: Think about how much the conversation about coronavirus has changed since everything shut down on March 16th? Putting any individual opinion aside, I think we can all hopefully agree that the conversation has changed for the better. I think we can all also agree that the data suggests that college-aged students (especially ones in peak physical condition) are one of the least susceptible populations to major coronavirus related health issues. And I think we can also all hopefully agree that loosening restrictions in all states is a good sign that we are headed in the right direction in battling this illness.

Well, if you think about how much the conversation and social restrictions have changed in the last 59 days, think about how far along they could be 59 days from now. Again, take yourself out of the moment and try to put yourself into the moment two months from now. For as fearful as we were two months ago, we’re in a much better place. And two months from now we’ll hopefully be in an even better place than we are today.

If that happens, it probably means that most or all colleges have athletes back on campus by that time (remember, San Diego State has already said they expect athletes back on campus July 7th). And if athletes are back on campus at that point, it makes the start of college football season that much more realistic.

Coaches are also beginning to argue publicly (and accurately) that the safest place for a kid to be is on campus: I remember having this conversation off the record all the way back in March and early April, and it has trickled down into the mainstream the last couple weeks. Florida football coach Dan Mullen said as much this week. But the simple facts suggest that the safest place for a student-athlete to be is actually on campus, not at home.

While that might sound like coach-speak nonsense, it’s actually true.

To explain as much, just think about a student-athlete’s life on campus versus those who are stuck living at home right now.

First, there are those who are stuck at home. For some, life probably isn’t noticeably different from on campus. Many come from good backgrounds, have plenty of space and freedom to complete schoolwork, eat adequate meals, and have found a way to work out in safe and clean environments. Again, for those guys and girls, life isn’t all that different.

However, if we’re being realistic, that just isn’t the case for most college athletes. Without trying to generalize or stereotype, many don’t come from those kinds of backgrounds. I’ve talked to several coaches this offseason who’ve told me all sorts of horror stories of kids living in one- or two-bedroom apartments with three, four, five or more other people. From an academic perspective, some don’t even have internet, making at-home schooling next to impossible. But even outside schoolwork, is the health safety aspect of it all. As we all know, it’s just not safe to have that many people living in that small of a space period. Especially during a pandemic.

It’s worth noting there is the opposite spectrum as well. There are plenty of other college athletes who grew up in rural areas. If God forbid they came down with a serious case of Covid-19, they might not have easy access to adequate healthcare. In some cases, it could be hours in the car to the nearest hospital.

Again, those are not my opinions. They’re the realities that thousands of college athletes are dealing with across the country.

Now compare that with what players will have access to on-campus. They would obviously be living in safe housing (my guess is that most schools will slowly bring back older players who live off-campus, before bringing in the freshmen). They’ll have access to world-class medical treatment. They will have customized meal plans and workout opportunities in safe and sterile gyms. Not only will that allow them to (in theory) have success on the field, but also keep their immune systems up, which would hopefully help them fight off the virus if they were affected.

The longer this goes, the more those in the college sports community are starting to understand that the safest place for college athletes is actually on their college campuses.

Finally, expect political pressure with other states opening: If you’re hoping to have football in the fall, and you’re worried about California schools holding out, well, there are probably two things that worked in your favor this week: Arizona will officially open up, with essentially no restrictions this weekend. And Florida governor Ron DeSantis publicly said on Wednesday that any professional sports team displaced from coronavirus will have a home in Florida. Florida AD Scott Stricklin has already said that he is more than willing to allow “The Swamp” to host NFL games.

Those two things are important from both a political and sports sense. And – in speaking with people around LA – there is a real belief that it is the sports world that will push the political world to loosen things up a little bit.

Why is that?

Well, from the practical sense, California has the country’s largest economy – over $3 trillion annually. And with Arizona now open and Nevada not far behind, where do you think Californians who are fortunate enough to have disposable income right now will go spend their money? If they can’t go to the mall, or stay at a hotel or eat at a restaurant in California, they’ll hop on a $50 Southwest flight to Phoenix or Las Vegas instead. Trust me, these are real conversations that are being had. Young, healthy people that have disposable income are not going to sit around and wait until the politicians tell them they can do things. They’ll do them on their own, which also puts political pressure on people in California. Do they really want to see hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in commerce leave their state? I didn’t think so.

And really, it’s the same from the sports perspective. I truly believe that Ron DeSantis offering up Florida as a home to displaced teams will be a turning point in California’s road to loosening restrictions. That’s because – if we can take it outside the college sports world for a second – the Los Angeles Rams are set to open up a $1 billion stadium this September. And for those who aren’t familiar, that stadium was built with zero taxpayer dollars, meaning that Rams owners paid the entire bill. You think they’re going to let that stadium lie dormant while the Rams play in Gainesville, if there is any way to safely get fans in the stands?

Me neither.

(For what it’s worth, I was also told that on Thursday morning Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt floated the idea that in the college world, USC would also consider playing its “home” games in either Nevada or Arizona in the fall.

I have not yet heard the audio so don’t want to comment, but that is a similar sentiment to what I was saying above. Again, if the games can be played they will be. And I find it hard to believe that the power players behind the scenes – and there are plenty in California – will let their home teams play in other locales if it’s at all safe to play in the state)

In conclusion:

Admittedly I know this article went long and there is a lot to take in. But over the last few days, California has truly become the epicenter of the college football conversation, in terms of when it could start, what it could look like, and what limitations may apply.

In the end however, with time on our side, I believe – with the information I have today, on May 14th, 2020 – that college football will go largely on time and as scheduled on Labor Day weekend. That can always change, and it could come with modifications. Maybe stadiums won’t be full, or fans will wear masks. Maybe an out of conference game or two is postponed or delayed or cancelled altogether.

But despite the news of this week, there is still plenty of time to safely get college football started in the fall.

(To listen to more of the conversation, as well as an interview with Arkansas hoops coach Eric Musselman, listen to today’s Aaron Torres Podcast below)

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

37 Comments for Will California ruin college football for the rest of us?

  1. Swizzle
    8:15 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Screw them, they have no shot at winning titles anyway. Let’s move on

  2. Lip Man 1
    8:18 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Aaron: I appreciate your thoroughness but the medical facts remain, until or unless a vaccine is created or basically testing is ramped up to ungodly numbers HOW can you protect players in close contact with one another from getting sick?

    Are we that sick of a society (and I’m a sports broadcaster who makes his living calling games…) where money now takes precedent over potentially killing kids?

    Is the risk worth it so “fans” can get their vicarious thrills since they’ll be at home and not risking jack squat?

    • JTHinton
      8:43 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      We don’t have a sure fire flu vaccine, and we play every winter

      I would imagine that Coronavirus becomes something like that. We allow 30k-50k to die every year with the flu to protect our normal way of life. I bet we do that with Coronavirus

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:24 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Doctors and hospitals are being paid large sums of money to code illnesses and deaths as covid. So Yes it’s worth the risk because there is no more risk than getting the flu.

    • ALogicalBeing
      9:25 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t know you’ve been the last couple of months but this virus isn’t killing healthy kids. Obviously if they have some sort of medical conditions they are gonna be affected by it. If a kid is scared about playing, no one is forcing them to. They have every right to not play. The numbers are not a secret. Everyone has access to finding out the tendencies of the virus. So, in that case, you have full control over the risks you do/do not take. No decision anyone makes about college football or anything happening is risking anyone’s life. Everyone still retains the ability to reject playing sports or really doing anything. And if they don’t, they’re the one risking their life.

    • Lee Durham Stone
      10:09 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      4everUKBlue: FactCheck .org: “Recent legislation pays hospitals higher Medicare rates for COVID-19 patients and treatment, but there is no evidence of fraudulent reporting.”

    • TonyMontana
      11:30 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      ALogicalBeing: You’re saying kids are healthy, they shouldn’t worry if they get it. And to a certain extent that is true, however this virus is in fact randomly killing perfectly healthy children and young adults. Furthermore, those athletes come in close contact with their coaches, staff, refs, trainers, chefs, students, etc. and by extension all of those people’s families. One player in one game could infect a handful of people which leads to 100s or 1000s. That’s not hyperbole, that’s science and that is the concern here. Then all of those people get on buses or planes, they go to hotels and visit restaurants, come home and take their kids to school, etc. This is a highly contagious virus pandemic we’re in. It’s not the flu where we have vaccines and treatments.

      I think people have gotten covid fatigue and arent really taking it seriously anymore. You feel like government is stepping on your rights when they are actually trying to save your lives. 85,000 people have died in less than 3 months and that’s with crazy social distancing in place. Either way we go its a catch-22. I’m just worried that we havent seen anything yet.

    • ALogicalBeing
      5:23 pm May 15, 2020 Permalink

      Tony, if you are afraid of it self isolate it is really that simple. You aren’t going to get it staying within your house all the time.

    • ALogicalBeing
      5:28 pm May 15, 2020 Permalink

      Everything in your example requires people to choose to not self isolate to happen. If they don’t that is their choice and responsibility. The government won’t be killing those people, they’ll be killing their selves. They have the right to their life according to the constitution which means if you wanna risk it, no one should stop you.

  3. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
    8:25 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Unfortunately I think the answer is yes.

  4. Swizzle
    8:29 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Hey guys, an under 24 year old dying from this is 1 in 1 million. Dying by lightning strike is 1 in 700000. So let’s relax and stop believing bullshit. These guys are healthy theyll be fine even if they did get it.

  5. JT55
    8:31 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Liberals ruin everything.

    • blueballs80
      9:13 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Why are you republicans so anti science? This for the safety for people. No miracles will take it away and neither will it magically go away. Ingesting lysol is not an option or being subjected to UV rays. Thats how dumb the republicans in the congress and senate have become.

    • chris43
      9:31 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Hmmmm so you’re the end all be all on all things COVID19 now? Because scientific tests actually show the exact opposite! In fact COVID19 dies very quickly when exposed to direct UV light.

    • Bluehender
      4:09 pm May 15, 2020 Permalink

      And Lysol injected and chased by bleach chris43. Don’t forget that. It’s more of what your fake president is telling you

    • Cousins Fake Tooth
      10:36 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Blue, do research. There is UV therapy they used since the 40’s. There is even UV therapy used to heal the longs where UV light is injected into the veins. Now to your other point, you are just being willingly ignorant if you think Trump stated to inject lysol. He not once said such a thing. Also, do some research, 90% of vaccines are made from what they call, “disinfectants”. Formaldehyde, Thimerosal to name a few. But since you know, science says this works, I am sure you are already aware of that.

    • Cousins Fake Tooth
      1:09 am May 15, 2020 Permalink

      Blue and let me be perfectly clear. Just because its science, does not mean it is correct. If science is correct 100% of the time, then why is so much changing? First we were told by Falchi not to wear a mask and it would do more harm than good, now he is telling us to wear masks. Surgeon General stated not to wear masks. Now he is stating we should. Why? They both looked at the science. Has that science changed? Yep. Fact is, science its def a great basis to use. But it is not always 100% accurate. It would never change if it was accurate.

  6. espn8122
    9:11 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Sports Broadcaster…..Coronabro. Again I hope people rise up against government oppression in a responsible way with protests, lawsuits, and aggressive measures.

    • bigblue98
      9:24 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      All hail King Trump. He will lead his peasants out of the dark times and continue to build his monarchy.

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:29 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      I’m with you espn8122, this is all BS, wait until 5G goes live then they will blame the sickness caused by the millimeter wavelengths on some other virus. That threat is real. Educate yourselves.

    • blueballs80
      9:33 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Civil unrest is not the solution. Think safety of the people or there won’t be that many people living to watch a game.

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:58 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      I do not advocate for civil unrest, I’m asking people to open their eyes and minds and to think critically and ask yourselves if all this makes sense. Turn off the tv, stop being told what to believe by the mainstream media and do your own research, this a power grab that we will all pay for if more people do not wake up.

    • CrystalBall
      10:38 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

      Got that right, 4everUKBlue.

  7. chris43
    9:34 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Screw California! If they don’t want to play….play without them!

  8. Han
    9:45 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    I mean, if we’re going to stress the importance of facts, we could look at the scientific fact that most states aren’t meeting the federal guidelines to reopen but are pushing ahead anyway which could cause problems in the whole managing the pandemic thing. But it’s all a liberal hoax, amirite?

  9. gpawfartmonger
    9:47 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    wow that was long. Anyway, California is crazy. They will lose more lives from their insanely long shut down then they will from the virus. Depression, starvation, violence, social unrest, medical procedures not getting done, social services and budget cuts, etc. They are making their state a hell hole and will expect responsible states to bail them out in the end.

  10. UKSupporter76
    10:23 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    If you’re going to explicitly list myths, maybe you might want to actually list the myths instead of the exact opposite of the myths. I know you idiots pride yourselves on sloppy writing, but this should be embarrassing for a high school student. Middle schoolers should know better. Have a little pride in your work. Can’t imagine why other schools might rag on UK’s academics when crap like this gets posted.

  11. Cousins Fake Tooth
    10:32 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    So if California teams don’t play, the rest of the NCAA can’t? Screw Commiefornia. Who cares what they do, let them sit out.

  12. grammarpoliceUK
    10:36 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but perhaps I can help some with the medical coding as a deputy coroner. All state forms throughout the US are basically the same. They have several lines for reasons other than the primary. death reason. On the Kentucky form, top line is primary reason for death. In these cases usually it will be listed as respiratory failure. The second line line says ‘Due To:” That is where the virus would most likely be listed. Think about it like this; Often times the reason for death will be listed as ‘Cardiac Arrest’. But in abut 90 percent of those second lines, ‘Due To’ will be listed as a blood clot. That means the reason you are dead is because of cardiac arrest. But without that clot, that cardiac arrest probably doesn’t happen. Works the same with this virus stuff. Below that could be listed other problems like diabetes, age, etc. Just like with this virus.
    And here;s another kicker for y’all. Lying on a form can bring me an 8 year prison term and a $1 million dollar fine. So I’m pretty sure no coroner’s or physician’s are lying on these forms as to the cause. Respiratory failure will be listed on many of these forms. But you are still gonna be dead due to the virus and other factors.

  13. Lip Man 1
    10:46 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    Grammar: Thanks for the clarifications.

  14. grammarpoliceUK
    11:03 pm May 14, 2020 Permalink

    No problem Lip Man!

  15. CahillsCrossingNT
    5:21 am May 15, 2020 Permalink

    Governor Gavin Newsom is privy to more data than the rest of us put together. He leads the nation’s most important and populous state, and we should listen to everything he says. If he thinks football and other sports should shut down, who are we to dispute him?

    • sprtphan
      7:02 am May 15, 2020 Permalink

      Satire right?

  16. ClutchCargo
    9:58 am May 15, 2020 Permalink

    California schools must be thanking their lucky stars that the one-time transfer rule hasn’t already been passed.

  17. bigbluebg
    11:49 am May 15, 2020 Permalink

    I like how the writer copy and pastes words he doesn’t know how to spell…Los Angelinos is formatted differently than the rest of the article. I do the same thing. Lol

  18. Looother
    4:32 pm May 15, 2020 Permalink

    Another substantive post Aaron. CA will certainly try to ruin college football. They try to ruin everything else. Hope Congress doesn’t bail them out…