UGA’s McGarity on fall football: ‘Things are trending in the wrong direction’

We stipulate that the Ivy League isn’t like other conferences. It offers no athletic scholarships. It was the last Division I league to institute a conference basketball tournament. It also was the first to cancel its conference tournament in March. Fifty hours later, every league had canceled.

The Ivy League is not the SEC, where sports Just Means More and football plays before crowds of 90,000 and up. The Ivy League’s announcement Wednesday that it will not play football — or any sport — this autumn doesn’t mean every other conference will again fall in line. It is, however, an indication.

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Speaking Thursday, this was Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity: “We’re still having our conference calls, and I’m sure (the Ivy League’s postponement) will be a topic we discuss at the next meeting and ongoing meetings. It’s obviously a sign that things aren’t improving, which is discouraging. But that doesn’t necessarily paint the picture for the rest of the country.”

No. It doesn’t. But college football is fighting the clock. McGarity believes a final decision — to play or not to play — must be made by Aug. 1. “That’s three weeks from now,” he said. “What can change between now and then? Are we going to get a vaccine in the next three weeks? I don’t know. But things are trending in the wrong direction.”

The last thing college football wants to do is to start and be forced to stop. The growing belief is that the 2020 season will be staged, at the earliest, in the spring of 2021. That, we note, represents a major change from a month ago. Entering June, football as scheduled seemed not just possible but probable. To invoke the words of Dr. Fauci, though: The virus will decide.

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The virus, which never went away, is back at something approaching full force. (We can only hope that this is full force.) “Until it touches someone close to you,” McGarity said, “you don’t really feel it.” His son’s father-in-law has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

McGarity thinks the University of Georgia will convene for its fall semester. "That's one thing we're all preparing for," he said. "It's a population we can put our arms around — and it's big arms. But when you add to that people coming to our events from all over the country, that presents more challenges. But if you have a classroom that usually seats 500, you can get that down to 100. I do think in-person classes will be held. That's as of today."

Football is a different animal. Football is supposed to be fun. How much fun would it be to have players running into each other — no social distancing there — in front of 90,000 people — none there, either — while wondering if, two weeks from now, the game you’re playing/attending will be circled as a superspreader? (Note McGarity’s words about “people coming from all over the country.”) Also: Do players wear masks? Do referees? How do you blow a whistle while masked?

Note also that SEC Media Days, scheduled to be held next week at the College Football Hall of Fame here, were recast as an online-only exercise. For the virtual event, no date has been set. Note that the Big Ten announced Thursday that it's adopting a conference-only football schedule, and Brett McMurphy of Stadium reported the ACC is about to do likewise. (This assumes there will be games in 2020, which remains in doubt.)

The SEC is not the Ivy League. The Ivy League may turn out Presidents and Supreme Court justices, but it doesn’t have its own network. But the Ivy League’s cancellation of its basketball tournament was the first big move toward the mass shuttering of sports in March, and its push-back of sports could portend much for the fall.

Said McGarity: “All signs are ... things are not improving, let's put it that way.”

Maybe matters will look different in three weeks. For there to be college football this fall, they’ll have to look much, much different.