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Steven M. Sipple: As difficult college football decisions near, confusion is understandable
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

Steven M. Sipple: As difficult college football decisions near, confusion is understandable

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It's time, right? It has to be time.

You have to think this week or early next week is when we get definitive answers about college football. 

Is there going to be a 2020 season? If so, what will it look like?

Aug. 1 arrives Saturday. It's time for hard decisions one way or the other. I know, we keep saying that. But time is up. 

If you've become confused wondering which way it's going to go, it's fully understandable. 

On one hand, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos has said repeatedly, as recently as last week, he's optimistic the Huskers will play a season. Two Power Five conferences -- the Big Ten and Pac-12 -- have made decisions to play only conference games. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has not yet announced any decisions regarding scheduling changes, but league members remain hopeful they can play all 12 games. 

The ACC and SEC also are still in decision-making mode, but appear intent on playing revised schedules. 

So what's the confusion? Well, I spoke to a handful of college football coaches around the country last week who still were unsure exactly what to expect this season. And perhaps you noticed Michigan State announced Friday that all members of the team will quarantine, or isolate, for 14 days. The decision comes on the heels of two staff members and one student-athlete testing positive for COVID-19. 

Keep in mind, Michigan State has a new head coach in Mel Tucker. So does Rutgers in Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights announced Saturday they have halted voluntary workouts due to six recent positive cases.

Those programs need all the practice time they can get to prepare for the coming season. Or maybe not. 

Graham Couch, an excellent (and measured) columnist for the Lansing (Michigan) State Journal, wrote last week he feels there is "no chance" college football will happen this fall. If entire programs choose to quarantine for 14 days in the wake of a few positive tests, well, Couch is probably on target. 

Thing is, not every program would go to such extreme measures. A month ago, Nebraska reported five football players tested positive for the virus. But the Huskers didn't shut down operations. Plenty of programs have reported positive test results without shutting down. 

In the absence of across-the-board agreement on how programs should handle positive tests, general confusion results. 

Through it all, almost everyone has opinions regarding what should happen. 

"The people in charge of whether college football plays a game in September don't have the stomach for the worst-case scenario or for plowing through the queasiness that'll come with unavoidable outbreaks of COVID-19 if it's aided by their decision to play a sport for the sake of television revenue. Nor should they," Couch writes. "Some things can wait for a pandemic to clear. College football is among them."

On the other hand, Nebraska coach Scott Frost earlier this month made a key point that unfortunately didn't pick up the sort of steam nationally that I anticipated. Even if players don't get to play in games this fall, he said, there's still a sizable risk of many of them getting the virus. By removing football from players' lives, he said, it largely eliminates the structure and safeguards that NU (and presumably other universities) provides at a high level.

Of course, the word "liability" is critical in a world of risk-averse university administrators. It largely drives the conversation. 

Optics also drive the conversation. If college football leaders are waiting for the right set of COVID-19 optics, forget playing this year. And, please, forget the spring season discussion. It's beyond stupid.  

"What if a player dies?" a longtime Nebraska football fan asked me last week.

"What if a city dies?" I replied, in reference to the remarkable ramifications for Lincoln and the state if there's no college football in 2020. 

OK, Lincoln wouldn't necessarily die. But how long would it take for Lincoln to return to its pre-pandemic form? Years? Decades? Ever?

When businesses shut down, they typically don't come back.

Will the Power Five come calling for 2021 Norris TE James Carnie?

When businesses shut down, careers can end. Unemployment numbers here would shoot through the roof. Domestic issues, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicide, escalating crime numbers ... it all must be considered along with the horrific effects of a deadly virus. 

Bottom line, there are many other forms of health to track than just COVID-19 statistics. We can't be that myopic. 

Granted, the health and welfare of student-athletes has to be at the forefront of the conversation at all times. That should go without saying. 

But this country needs sports. It needs college football. And, no, it's not all about money. It's not all about billions in lost revenue. 

The quality of life part of the discussion is important, too. Why diminish that element?  

College football is the drumbeat of this state's existence in the fall. We move to its rhythm. 

So, hard decisions with remarkable ramifications are coming soon. That much we know. 

The rest can be extremely confusing.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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