NEW YORK, N.Y.- The definition of the word leadership is a simple one. CEO Kevin Kruse laid out a great explanation of the word, stating: “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” The “leadership” in college athletics has managed to achieve the complete opposite of this since the pandemic started and now the sudden crash of the college football season is a compilation of the incompetence that has been building for years.
College football has always been the wild west of the sports world. Schools jumping from conference to conference looking for the biggest payday. Coaches committing to their team one day and leaving the next. The amount of conference games vary from league to league. I won’t even get started with the playoff format. All of this division within the sport has largely been harmless in the grand scheme of things. But this looking out for oneself and one’s conference mentality that has become prevalent during a pandemic situation is coming back to bite the sport. The lack of a unifying voice has led to a mad scramble to try and save the sport this fall, with mixed messages getting sent out all over the place. Chaos has ensued and, in the end, the one’s hurt by the lack of leadership the most are the players and fans.
Let’s be realistic before we go any further: staging a college football season amidst a pandemic was a massive undertaking and potentially an impossible act. The complications that go into this choice are numerous, but that’s not an excuse for poor leadership. At this point, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 axing their seasons while the ACC, SEC and Big 12 try to push through, there’s already enough frustration from players, coaches and fans alike about how we ultimately got here, which was due mostly to a lack of preparedness, communication and unity.
When the pandemic first struck college sports and canceled March Madness as well as the entirety of the spring sports calendar, conference commissioners and athletic directors were on conference calls daily. This was designed to ensure every school and conference was on the same page moving forward in the hope that their golden goose could be saved. After months of these daily discussions, the first sign of dysfunction came to light from the Big Ten back in early July. Without telling anyone else, the wealthiest conference announced they were moving to a conference-only schedule this fall, catching the other four major leagues off guard. From there, it’s been every conference for themselves, with the ultimate example of lack of communication coming from the two southern conferences.
The ACC, still hoping to preserve their in-state SEC rivalry games like Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina, announced their teams would be allowed to play one non-conference game. Just hours later, the SEC announced they were playing conference games only, eliminating the hope of rivalry games the ACC specifically made room for. It makes you think after having daily discussions for months, what was actually being talked about? Was there any planning at these meetings? Because the actions of the individual leagues themselves suggest that no real dialogues of substance took place at all.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith exacerbated these concerns with his comments Tuesday afternoon when discussing the news of the Big Ten officially canceling their fall football season.
When talking to the Big Ten Network, Smith said, “The science came to us so fast,” when trying to explain why the conference switched gears so quickly within the last week. This is an interesting statement to make because within this last week that Smith claims science provided such overwhelming evidence that a football season wasn’t feasible, the conference made two moves that indicated the opposite.
Last Wednesday, the conference announced their football schedule for all 14 teams, with the first game set for September 3rd between Ohio State and Illinois. While their wording in the schedule release was cautiously optimistic, their actions displayed a confidence that the season would begin on time. The second action that disputes Smith’s claim was that practices started for all teams in preparation for their season opener in less than a month. Teams like Ohio State and Penn State were in helmets and practice jerseys, ramping up for the start of the season that they thought was a definite.
It begs the asking of these questions then: Why did conferences release their schedules? Why were teams allowed to practice if the season was anything but guaranteed? Smith’s statement also raises another question, which is that what happened in the last six days coronavirus wise that gave the league enough concern to cancel the season? While the pandemic hasn’t improved much throughout the country, it certainly didn’t get any worse to make football impossible. It makes you wonder if college football’s leaders weren’t taking the virus seriously until recently.
There’s one final concern that comes with the decision to cancel the fall season and that’s the question of what happens next. We have gotten zero collective answers or clarity on essentially anything so far and that is unacceptable. The players’ hearts and feelings have been toyed with throughout this entire process and they rightfully deserve answers about their future. Some of those questions without any answers include:
What will a spring season look like?
When will a spring season kick off?
Will an extra year of eligibility be granted for every player?
Will the scholarship limit increase to accommodate for both returning players and incoming freshmen?
So far, the answer to every single one of these questions has been the same: “I don’t know.” It’s far from assuring that two of the five Power 5 conferences have already pulled the plug without a road map for what the next step is.
In a sport played by so-called amateurs, it would have been nice for the adults in the room to step up and lead the way. Even if a season ultimately proves to be impossible, the every man for themselves strategy that ensued over the last five months has been a direct indictment on the entire leadership structure in college football. As Kruse mentions, the practical implementation of leadership is maximizing the efforts of others to achieve a common goal. Can any president or conference commissioner look themselves in the mirror and say they lived up to this definition? Unlike every other question posed so far, we already know the answer to that one.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Time is ticking. Hope is fading. For those associated with or fans of college football, the sport we love is on life support when it comes to having a season this fall. Last week, the Ivy League made the first major move in canceling all sports for the upcoming semester, only for the Big Ten and Pac-12 to send shockwaves when they announced their conference-only scheduling for this season. While this Hail Mary attempt needs a miracle to get pulled off, this is the best option for completing a season and just might be crazy enough to work.
The decision for both Power Five conferences to only schedule league games had nothing to do with lessening travel but instead was implemented with equal testing protocols in mind. College football, unlike professional sports, is without a commissioner and instead, it’s the teams and conferences that call the shots. This means there is no uniform testing policy that all 130 FBS teams are required to meet, which only causes ambiguity in a time that certainty is necessary. It’s dangerous enough to try to play a contact sport in the middle of a pandemic. Therefore, to have games between teams with different testing rules is a recipe for disaster. It’s an express train to shutdown city.
Scheduling games only within a respective conference allows each league to devise testing protocols that fit every team under their watch to ensure that when these teams take the field on Saturdays, there isn’t a question of whose sick or if the other team’s testing is up to snuff. Looking at the landscape of the country, it appears that most of the Power Five conferences will require strict testing, as spikes in positive tests have soared in many college football hotbeds. It would behoove the other three conferences yet to make a decision on their schedule (ACC, Big 12, SEC) to follow suit in terms of scheduling only conference opponents so that way, proper testing is ensured.
The cost of testing is also a massive factor here as well. While the major conferences can afford to have regular testing, a lot of the Group of Five and FCS programs can’t. This is important because plenty of Power Five teams still have games scheduled against lesser opponents with smaller budgets and fewer resources to keep players safe. Canceling these games allows big time programs to avoid playing glorified scrimmages against teams who can’t afford to test as frequently and accurately as major college football programs can. The more games against teams with similar testing requirements helps to provide the players with the safest environment to play the game.
Conference-only scheduling also means there won’t be a normal 12-game regular season, which is another added benefit. Condensing the schedule to only play eight, nine or 10 games provides necessary flexibility to maneuver around the inevitability of postponed games. Fewer games allows conferences to buy more time, which is the biggest need in order to put a season on. The most vocal athletic director during this time has been Ohio State’s Gene Smith, who believes the conference-only schedule is a necessity for this season.
“We can hit the pause button and provide a window of opportunity for our student-athletes not to be put at risk. We can move games. … There’s a flexibility, I can’t say that enough, that’s significant.”
A normal season had each team slated for one bye week, which would make the cancelation and rescheduling of games almost impossible. Playing games between teams in the same conference allows for added bye weeks and the ability to reschedule games more frequently, which increases the likelihood of a respectable season getting played while also bringing in more money for these schools to make. Even the idea of pushing conference title games back a few weeks has been floated, meaning teams could try to fit in an 8-10 game season in the span of 15 or 16 weeks.
The shorter season also allows for a delayed start to the season. Currently, the season is still slated to kick off on Labor Day weekend, which is a little less than two months away. The NCAA approved a six-week training camp that’s scheduled to start on July 24th. With so many states reversing their opening policy and closing down, a shorter season allows for a delay in the start of training camp to increase the ability for schools to keep their players safe and allow the recent spikes to quell. The season could theoretically kick off on October 3rd while still having enough time to fit in an entire season.
While hope is fleeting, the biggest ally to hope right now is time. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already bought themselves some more time. The other FBS conferences will inevitably follow down the same path as well. While in reality a football season could be just a pipe dream at this point, we have seen miracles in college football happen before. And while conference-only scheduling is the last prayer at a fall season, we have seen a Hail Mary or two completed before.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Has Bill Belichick done it again? Is the evil empire pulling a line from Lee Corso and saying, “Not so fast my friend!” to all of those who are burying the Patriots dynasty? The legendary head coach, after departing from a quarterback who helped him win six Super Bowls this offseason, pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the signing of former MVP Cam Newton on Sunday evening. While the move is a flashy one with a big name set to fill the void left by Tom Brady, there’s little reason to believe Newton will have much of an impact for the Patriots this season and even less reason to believe he’ll even beat out Jarrett Stidham to win the starting job week one.
Health is still the most pressing question for Newton. Since taking the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, the former Heisman Trophy winner has played a full 16-game season just once in the last four years. This is a player who missed the final 14 games of the 2019 season and two games in the prior season. As the old cliché in sports goes “The best ability is availability.” It’s impossible to deem the Patriots true Super Bowl contenders because their newest acquisition is far from a guarantee to step on the field.
While getting on the field is one concern, staying on the field is an even taller task. The good news for the Patriots is that Newton did pass a physical back in March, with both his shoulder and foot “checking out well,” according to a source who relayed that information to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. So while the Auburn product has checked the first box, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that this will equate to a healthy 2020 season. Cam’s body has taken a ton of abuse throughout his nine-year career. He’s had surgeries to his shoulder (twice), foot and ankle while also suffering back vertebrae fractures after a car accident.
As a Colts fan myself, I’ve witnessed first-hand how a player’s body gets worn down over time to the point where the slightest injury could end a career. Andrew Luck, while not as reliant on his legs as the 2015 NFL MVP, would still use his body to run over defenders while also being able to bounce back up after punishing hits. Years of exposure to big hits eventually took its toll, as Luck decided to retire in 2018 in part because of all of the punishment his body suffered.
While the Luck example is an extreme one, it highlights what happens if a team neglects to protect their quarterback. The wear and tear Newton’s body accrued over nine seasons doesn’t just go away because he’s healed from previous injuries. It will only get harder for Cam to keep himself healthy as his career elongates. If the former top pick wants to continue to play his physical, bruising style of football, it’s tough to imagine he’ll be able to make it through a full 16-game schedule, which would put a damper on the playoff hopes of the Patriots.
Putting health aside for a minute, the learning curve that the former Panther has to overcome in this unusual offseason is another reason to slam the brakes on the “Cam Newton will have a huge impact in New England” narrative. Signing on June 29th, Newton will have just about a month to learn the Josh McDaniels offense before training camp begins. The difficulty level increases due to the fact that the quarterback and offensive coordinator can’t meet in person until practices officially get underway. Taking it a step further, this also means Newton won’t be able to throw to any of his new teammates until training camp. Not exactly an ideal circumstance when you’re trying to beat out a player who already knows the offense.
2020 will be a season like we’ve never seen before. Two factors that will play a major role in the success or lack thereof from teams will be: continuity and familiarity. Minimal-to-zero offseason contact between players this offseason benefits those teams who are returning head coaches, quarterbacks and rosters from 2019. This gives Stidham a tremendous leg up on the competition. The former Auburn quarterback himself had all of last year to build chemistry with the skill position players and absorb McDaniels’ system, which will mean he’ll hit training camp full steam ahead. The familiarity that the second-year quarterback has with the offense could end up being the difference in him starting week one.
Another pandemic-affected aspect that will benefit the returning quarterback is that the preseason has been chopped in half, as there are only two preseason games scheduled. While teams have been valuing these glorified scrimmages less and less in recent years, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Belichick & Co. to see what they have in the former number one pick. The less preseason games, the bigger the advantage for Stidham to win the starting job.
Between injuries and learning a new playbook, it doesn’t add up to Cam Newton having success with the Patriots in 2020. To already hand New England the AFC East title or even going further to state this signing makes the six-time Super Bowl champions a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy is premature to say the least. When all is said and done, it will be Stidham, not Newton, that will be under center by the time week one rolls around.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Millionaires fighting billionaires. Most of us just roll our eyes as we’d all love to have those problems. When the haggling of money occurs in the arena of sports, we usually side with the billionaire owners and want the player to sign a deal quickly in order to get back on the field. The stakes, though, are very different in this feud. Players want a reasonable salary for 2020 while the owners are desperate to stop hemorrhaging cash. Baseball’s long-term future is very much in peril if a deal isn’t reached. While we normally side with ownership when contract disputes arise, there are a few reasons why it’s time we flip our allegiance to the players side and root for them to get properly compensated for the risk they are taking in resuming play.
In this pandemic, it’s not unreasonable and almost mandatory that sacrifices be made by everyone. Baseball is no different. The players have already done their share of sacrificing as back in March, the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to prorate their salary commensurate to the number of games played. Owners are now asking the players to take a second pay cut because of the fact that most likely, no fans will be allowed stadiums at all during this shortened season. It’s tough to criticize and fault the players for not wanting another salary reduction because the owners misjudged the climate in which games would be played and now are frantically trying to hold onto every dollar they have. Why should the players have to pay for a miscalculation by the owners?
The form of the pay cut is also very controversial because it would come in the form of a 50/50 split of the 2020 revenue between the owners and players, a practice never before enforced. The players association, as they should, strongly disagrees with this proposal because it would serve as a de facto salary cap, as baseball is the only of the four major sports without one. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark had some strong words when speaking to The Athletic last Monday about the idea of a 50/50 split.
“A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period,” Clark said. “That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past – and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days – suggests they know exactly how this will be received.”
From the players perspective, it’s tough to trust the owners to act in good faith. They’ve accused them in the past of colluding together to suppress wages and destroy the free agent market. Now with the CBA set to expire after the 2021 season, the players worry that their leverage could be lost if they cave and agree to a second pay reduction. This agreement could have devastating impacts that last a lot longer than just this season.
The risk the players are taking by stepping onto the field in the midst of a pandemic is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Without a vaccine available, there’s still a chance of infection despite the numerous precautions the league office is taking. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell’s viral rant brought to light how divisive this proposal is to the players. Snell was speaking on his personal Twitch stream last week when he let loose on why taking another pay cut was not an option.
“The risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that?” Snell said. “If I’m gonna play, I should be getting the money I signed to be getting paid. I should not be getting half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half, on top of a 33% cut of the half that’s already there — so I’m really getting, like, 25%.”
He’s right. After all, the owners aren’t the ones out on the field risking their health to play the game. It’s a matter of when a player will contract the virus, not if, so why should the players be exposed as well as have their pay significantly slashed? The risk versus reward debate right now is an easy one because the players are facing a health risk while getting compensated very poorly. The scales have to be tipped in favor of the reward far outweighing the risks involved, a balance that at the moment favors the risk being too high. There needs to be some sort of incentive because right now, all of the signs point to it not making a whole lot of sense for players to return to the field this season.
Snell isn’t alone in this thinking, as some of baseball’s superstars came out to defends the Rays pitcher. Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper is glad those comments were put out in the open.
“He ain’t lying, he’s speaking the truth bro,” Harper told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Somebody’s gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it.”
Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado also chimed in and backed up Snell when talking with The Athletic.
“He made a lot of good points,” Arenado said. “A lot of it gets misperceived. Trying to get the public to understand us, it’s not going to work very well in our favor…”
Arenado brings up a very important point that can’t be lost in this entire battle. With the owners floating out the 50/50 revenue split idea, this public frustration from the labor is exactly what they wanted. Social media was buzzing with tons of “Just get out there and play” takes after Snell’s rant went viral. Let’s also not forget what the players are actually asking for. They aren’t demanding a pay raise, but instead just asking to keep their already halved salary. It’s easy for the public to get frustrated about millionaires complaining about salary, but you can’t overlook the billionaires selfishly trying to keep their pockets filled.
Looking at the landscape of the country right now, there’s a serious void that we are so used to sports filling. If the NBA and NHL can’t or choose not to return, baseball will be at the forefront of the nation. This is a unique opportunity that could allow baseball to jump back into national relevancy and with that increased attention, allow owners to make up for lost revenue in this pandemic stricken season. MLB has the chance to be the first and quite possibly the only league to return for a long time.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has focused a lot of his efforts on changing the game to make it more appealing to the younger audience. There’s no better way to bring new fans in than being the main sport played during an otherwise bleak time in history. The short-term losses could be made up down the line by tapping into a fanbase that baseball has never had access to before. The growth of the sport will increase stadium and television revenues, creating a new stable stream of money coming in. Considering the potential loss of four-billion-dollars if baseball isn’t played in 2020, it’s advantageous for the owners to cater to the needs of the players.
If anything, the coronavirus has put us all on the same playing field. No matter the job we have or the industry we work in, we’re all inconvenienced and more importantly, we’re all in this together. We’ve sacrificed and now hope springs eternal that the summer can bring about some semblance of normalcy. Part of that return to normalcy is watching baseball on the television every night. In a time when we’re all sacrificing for the greater good, baseball needs to do the same. The players have made their sacrifice. It’s time for the owners to make theirs.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- The Miami Dolphins are finally on the clock. After a year of “Tanking for Tua” and accumulating as many draft picks as possible, they can finally start addressing their needs, starting at the quarterback position. Holding the fifth pick, it seems destined that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be sitting in their lap, waiting to put on the aqua and orange. But now that this day has finally come, the decision is harder than it seems. There is no doubting that the Crimson Tide quarterback has the talent to transcend a franchise. There is very little on the field that Tua does wrong, transforming the SEC powerhouse from a ground and pound team to one that slices and dices defenses with a lethal aerial attack. There is a major flaw with the 22-year-old and that is his health, more specifically, his durability. Which begs the question: Should the Dolphins trust Tua to be their franchise quarterback?
From a talent perspective, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Normally, the biggest question marks surrounding quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft are their physical tools. Do they have a strong arm? Are they accurate? Can they read defenses and analyze information quickly? Can they be a leader of men? At Alabama, he aced all of those questions. The two-year starter amassed 77 touchdowns to just nine interceptions while claiming numerous accolades, including 2018 SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American that same season. He holds the single season touchdown record (43) and is the career touchdown leader (87) in Alabama history.
Equally as impressive as his stats are his leadership abilities. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a very glowing compliment of the quarterback’s effect on the university as a whole.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program as any player we have ever had,” Saban said. It’s tough to find a compliment that has greater weight than that.
While the on-field accomplishments and leadership say that the Hawaiian native can turn a franchise around, the injury concerns say he can’t be relied upon. The former Alabama star has had more than his fair share of nicks and bruises throughout his two seasons as the starter. During his three years in Tuscaloosa, there were five documented injuries that Tua suffered. Three of these injuries (broken finger in March of 2018, sprained right knee in October of 2018 and left ankle surgery in December of 2018) did not see the signal caller miss a game. The latest two injuries he suffered this past season saw the Heisman hopeful miss a total of four games, including a dislocated hip that ended his college career.
What’s even more alarming is that while five injuries in three years is significant, it’s possible that more setbacks occurred without anyone knowing. Former NFL executive Mike Lombardi reported that on top of the injuries listed above, Tua broke his wrist not once but twice. On the GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi expanded.
“It’s not just his hip. It’s his ankle. It’s his wrist,” Lombardi said. “He broke his wrist the first day of spring ball one year. And then they fixed it and he came back and he re-broke it again.”
This is of major importance because it could be a precursor to what Dolphins fans could expect in the future if Miami tabs Tua to be their guy. At Alabama, Tagovailoa had great offensive lines in the two seasons he was the starting quarterback. Both in 2018 and 2019, the Crimson Tide were finalists for the Joe Moore Award, an honor given to the best offensive line in the country.
The junior was sacked just 10 times in 2019, while Alabama as a whole allowed the third fewest sacks in the country. In 2018, the Crimson Tide were tied for 12th with just 16 sacks allowed in 15 games. Despite having great protection throughout his college career, Tagovailoa still found himself injured. Looking at what the Dolphins possess on their offensive line, it’s worrisome that the injury-riddled quarterback will be subject to a ton of pressure and will be hit more in one year than his entire college career. Miami allowed the most quarterback hits (147) and tied for first in sacks allowed (58) in 2019, so it’s a stark contrast from the protection Tua was afforded in college to the kind of protection he’ll be dealing with in the pros.
The injury prone label that is being floated around isn’t hyperbole, as NFL teams are legitimately questioning whether the talent is worth the injury risk. Lombardi went on to say that two teams he knew of flunked Tua’s physical not just because of the questions surrounding his hip injury, but because of the total compilation of injuries suffered throughout his career. There is good news concerning his hip injury, as two doctors have said his hip is recovering perfectly and there should be very little worry that his hip will suffer the same fate of Bo Jackson’s. While the hip is encouraging, the fear for the Dolphins should be focused on his ability to stay healthy, not his current health to date.
All of these injuries and serious concerns are enough for me, if I were the Dolphins, to pass on drafting Tagovailoa. There are already examples in the NFL of talented quarterbacks getting drafted to be the franchise leader only to have injuries derail their career. The last thing the Dolphins can afford is to have another Robert Griffin III or Sam Bradford situation. While Tua’s upside is higher I believe than both of those players, the risk is even greater as well. Andrew Luck’s career arc should be enough to give the Dolphins a peek into the future if they draft Crimson Tide star and aren’t able to protect him adequately enough. Even just a year or two behind this extremely porous offensive line could be enough for the already brittle quarterback to never fully recover.
It’s an old cliché, but a very fitting one when it comes to the decision of finding the next elite quarterback. A player’s best ability is his availability, and for Tua, that’s his most questionable feature. It’s why I believe the Dolphins would be better off drafting Oregon’s Justin Herbert or even bypassing the position completely and drafting an offensive tackle. While they might not be getting the player they dreamed of drafting back in September, the good news for the Dolphins is that there are other fish in the sea.