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WATCHING FOOTBALL: COVID Scheduling, PAC-12 Players Strike, The XFL

Face the facts from fascinating football front-pages flying fast and furious, friends. (Sorry.)

If you’re like me, you were starving for sports – games, news, debates, anything – as the world’s long virus hiatus dragged on. 

Thankfully, most major sports (and the WNBA) are now back! And the ones that aren’t back quite yet are at least making news. For instance: football!

Just in the last few days, we witnessed a blitz of exciting news across the pro and college game. Below I’ll break down the three biggest stories of the week so far. 

COVID AND COLLEGE FOOTBALL

A few weeks ago, I wrote about each Power-5 conference’s scheduling changes in the face of COVID-19.

Since then, the conferences have been on a determined quest to make me look very silly.

First, rather than pivoting to a ten-game in-conference season, the ACC did something hilarious. “Ten games, you say? Well why not ELEVEN?!?” Then, still cackling maniacally, they revealed that noted independent-til-we-die blue-blood Notre Dame would be joining their collection of dumpster fires, instantly invalidating my entire season preview.

Because no offense, Tar Heels, but Notre Dame’s the presumptive ACC runner-up now.

Then the SEC floored me. If there was one conference that I thought would probably throw caution to the wind and play a whole-hog full-tilt twelve-game season with fans during a worldwide pandemic, it would be the Southeastern Conference. These are the Americans who shoot guns at hurricanes and wild hogs with equal abandon, the exact kind of insane, wide-eyed bundles of self-reliance and sheer gumption I absolutely love.

But no. The conference of the South went along with the crowd and moved to a ten-game, all-conference schedule. Another one of my theories gone.

Surely the Big 12 would hang on, though. Right? They’d been sounding positive about a full season for weeks.

Nope. The Big 12 just announced they’d be moving to a ten-game season too. Nine games, plus one out of conference.

I’m tempted to say this is the end of the virus-fueled indecision that’s seemingly plagued college football for months. We have some measure of stability, a plan in place.

But if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s this: so much can change on a dime. The season won’t be guaranteed until it starts. Thank goodness that’s relatively soon.

PAC-12 PLAYERS STRIKE

As the last two power conferences were making up their mind about how to pull off a season, something momentous happened out west.

A collection of PAC-12 players, from across the conference, refused to play football this season until their demands – spanning education, COVID protections, and social issues – were met.

I said recently that if players want to sit out the season due to COVID fears, they should be allowed to do so without penalty. If that were all that this was, I’d support this effort.

But when sports media started raising the specter of college player unions again, I thought twice.

A players’ union would not work for college sports. Players already receive solid healthcare and (in most cases) educational opportunities in exchange for playing sports. They should be able to profit off of their names, images, and likenesses too. If they can’t, that’s certainly a problem.

But players should negotiate with their specific schools, or leave them and go to others where the benefits they receive are better. A union will not solve these problems. It will only introduce new ones – all the attendant issues that come with unions elsewhere in the developed world.

So if these players don’t want to play because of the virus, that’s fine. But if this is more about paving the way for collective bargaining, I think it’s likewise fine to pull scholarships and give them to players who will, you know, play the game. That’s who those scholarships are intended to provide for.

THE XFL’S BACK

Over in the pro football world, can you smell what The Rock is investing in?

A group led by muscle-bound charisma machine Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Redbird Capital just bought the bankrupt XFL, formerly owned by Vince McMahon, for a cool $15 million.

This is fantastic news. The resurrected XFL regularly exceeded expectations last year from a fan attendance, revenue, and ratings perspective. It produced engaging, innovative, flat-out fun football post-Super Bowl – something conventional wisdom claimed was impossible.

And with only eight teams, the XFL is practically pandemic-proof. It can create a COVID-free bubble league easily if need be.

Yes, the XFL just can’t seem to die. And I, for one, am elated.


As football season nears, news will keep on breaking at a breakneck pace. And so will my college football previews!

Next up: the Big 12. I’ll see you on Friday.

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