By Reed Kohberger
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
-Hamlet, William Shakespeare
You POV’ers have had some great discussions going on about Pitt football and most recently, about whether football could, or should, be played in the 2020 season. That last part is creating some strange and almost unbelievable stances being taken on the subject across this nation of ours.
Let me throw my two cents in if you will.
As any long time reader of the Pitt POV, or of the PITT Blather before I started the POV, well knows that I believe in the amateur aspects of college sports. Now I do so without blinders on – I fully realized that college football in particular isn’t the same animal it was back when I went to Pitt in the mid-‘70s. It has changed in ways that I don’t particular like or agree with, but that’s life when now the almighty dollar calls the shots.
With the uncertainty around the Corona-19 virus, its impacts and questions regarding when it will be safe to resume extremely close contact sports like football there are also hundreds of ideas and suggestions on how to do, well, practically anything pertaining to it. I think we can all agree that there is no clear answer at this point regardless of what political, religious or tribal beliefs you hold – there just isn’t.
So what is my take on the 2020 season? Here goes…with the reminder that Universities and Colleges are instituted and exist to educate and to conduct research. That is the bottom line – anything else is great to have but nowhere in Pitt’s or most probably any other university mission statements does the word “football” or even “athletics” appear. Here is our favorite school’s statement:
The University’s mission is to:
- provide high-quality undergraduate programs in the arts and sciences and professional fields, with emphasis upon those of special benefit to the citizens of Pennsylvania;
- offer superior graduate programs in the arts and sciences and the professions that respond to the needs of Pennsylvania, as well as to the broader needs of the nation and the world;
- engage in research, artistic, and scholarly activities that advance learning through the extension of the frontiers of knowledge and creative endeavor;
- cooperate with industrial and governmental institutions to transfer knowledge in science, technology, and health care;
- offer continuing education programs adapted to the personal enrichment, professional upgrading, and career advancement interests and needs of adult Pennsylvanians; and
- make available to local communities and public agencies the expertise of the University in ways that are consistent with the primary teaching and research functions and contribute to social, intellectual, and economic development in the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.
Let’s keep those points in mind when we take true and hard looks at what is important for the University of Pittsburgh, its students, alumni and fans.
First let’s make one thing abundantly clear – not playing football would certainly financially impact a university but it would absolutely not bankrupt any Division I schools. It may well force other sports programs at the school into lingering or substantial changes, but it will not bring any university as a whole to a screeching halt on a permanent basis.
Let’s also dispel the negative myth that football players are at Pitt to just play football – that is far from true as recent NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) stats list Pitt as tied for 11th place with a 988 rating. Along with that Pitt’s current football graduation rate stands at 78% – well above the 47% average of other football programs but also almost as high as Pitt’s overall student body’s 81% rate.
So –Pitt and many, many other universities certainly do value education for athletes as well as the general students. Which, in now coming around to whether the 2020 season should or could be played, is the basis for my suggestions on what to do if I had a magic wand.
For me the idea of athletes playing football when the rest of the universities’ restrict their students to off-campus learning is ludicrous and violently rife with pure greed. I understand that college football fans want to follow their school’s programs and watch the games and I know universities dearly want the football revenue but doing it when not allowing regular students on campus is akin to conducting ‘sport’ in the Roman Coliseum where practically no one in the stands gave a crap about who was down on the field running for their lives from hungry lions. They just wanted to see the blood and violence.
I honestly would not shriek and pull out my hair if we had to miss college ball for a year – or if the season was delayed and consisted only of in-conference games. Eight games in late November, December and January would be feasible if could be done safely I believe.
However let’s look at this from the student/athletes points of view if indeed C-19 is still a viable, even if lessened, threat come this fall semester. I say give these players a firm non-punitive option of sitting out a full year of football while keeping their scholarship for that 2020 school year. The key concept there is ‘without punishment’.
Doing so would keep the athletes in academics and working toward their degrees. This way the student/athletes need not be housed, fed, trained, insured, etc…at the universities’ cost. They would have no ties to the team and program until the next fall semester and the football season (and the ramp-up training to it).
This would be followed by the NCAA mandating that the universities’ athletic departments honor the same scholarships athletes who decide to sit out held into the next football season also.
Of course the NCAA would have to increase the number of allowed scholarships from 85 to maybe 100 or more for some years to make up roster players for those kids who chose to sit out. The NCAA would also have to suspend the “5 to play 4” rule (which allows five years of eligibility) for a period of years also – but they can do that with a stroke of a pen.
In doing the above (again, if things don’t normalize by fall) it would allow the schools to still take some kids out of high school on scholarship yet not punish any existing student/athlete who decides to sit out. It would in a way be a modification of a redshirt year without the player having to be actively involved in the program.
Are those crazy thoughts? Well, what we are living through – and may be for some time – is pretty crazy in itself. We are modifying our ways of life on what seems like a daily basis and constantly have to balance behaviors in a risk/reward scenario. These options for the football programs offer a real and doable set of choices.
Most importantly they allow the student/athletes (and their families) to make hard decisions based on safety and health issues without the fear that the student/athlete could be out of football all together solely at the whim of the athletic department just because the player chose a personal way forward for their time in the university’s athletic program
P/S: I think about you guys a lot and have very fond memories of our conversations on the POV and at tailgates, games, golf outing, etc. With that I dearly want each and every one of you to remain safe and strong for a fruitful, long life. Please take care of yourselves, your families and you fellow citizens.