When the remixed ACC schedule dropped Thursday morning, for a moment, I found myself excited for football. It's been a while. The 10-plus-one model doesn't have the allure of marquee non-conference matchups (at least in the short-term), but count me amongst the crowd that doesn't want to go back to the inferior divisional model. Virginia Tech ditched the cozy Coastal for a slate that includes North Carolina, Miami, Louisville and Clemson, arguably the best teams in the conference (vagabond Notre Dame notwithstanding). There's nowhere to hide and simply winning the division is no longer good enough to book a trip to the title game. The backdoor is closed. Want to go to Charlotte? Then finish top 2 in conference game winning percentage. It's a high-protein test to gauge how far along Justin Fuente has improved his program.
That was the allure for me heading into the 2020 season, pre-COVID, the simple storyline of: with his players, could Fuente win enough football games in year five to satisfy the fanbase.
"I'm really excited about the chemistry and what we got in our locker room right now," Fuente said during an interview with Sons of Saturday. "We're finally an older football team, first of all. We were an older football team in 2016, in 2017 we were an older football team on one side of the ball, and then in '18 we were young everywhere. We finally kind of made it through that youth movement that we knew was coming.
"I sat there and looked at the roster and met with Whit [Babock] after my first two years and said, 'Listen, this is what's coming. You gotta understand, I'm looking at this, and there's going to be some bumps in the road. You didn't hire me for the last two years. You hired me to get us through what's coming up. And we have made it through that."
This season was going to test Fuente's assertion — whether the Hokies had made that leap. And yeah, with foresight and hindsight it was evident the roster Fuente inherited was top-heavy and he (or any coach really) would have to rebuild the program's foundation. Though perspective, patience and understanding are tougher for a fanbase to swallow when Tech loses by two scores at ODU, gets drubbed in Lane by Duke, and racks up the losses in between. It had to get done, the basement door swung crooked, but no one wanted to think about the cost, especially when watching the Hokie Stone get demo'd. Now it was time to see if Babcock hired the right contractor for the job.
Ignorance was bliss, and getting caught up, even for a few minutes, in what a football season might look like was a welcome mental escape. The fire's burning all around and you're gleefully drinking cans of Summer Ale in the driveway because the flames haven't reached your neighborhood.
Prominent industry source: "I think by the end of the week the fall sports will be postponed in all conferences."— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) August 8, 2020
Source: Big Ten presidents are meeting today. All options are on the table. There's some presidential momentum for canceling the fall football season. It's unknown if there's enough support to make that decision today.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 8, 2020
And maybe they won't.
But I'm a believer in expectations management, underpromise and overdeliver, and for a few minutes this week I bought into a football season. The return on a penny stock seems more promising.
The bigger picture puts a football season (or lack thereof) into the proper perspective. There are more important things at stake, namely the immediate and unknown health concerns caused by COVID. (And I write that as the owner of a small business that has and will feel the financial impact of the pandemic.)
The reason the SEC pushed to September 26th was stalling. No one knows anything for sure, and that includes them and every other conference. They're hoping for outs at this point and there aren't many besides bubbling up.— BUM CHILLUPS, NPR CLASS PUNDIT (@edsbs) August 8, 2020
It's certainly a #PuntingIsWinning strategy right now for the Power 5 conferences. It remains to be seen how long the plane sits on tarmac for though. The NBA has operated successfully in a bubble to contain the virus, and that plan seems most prudent for any league that wants to play sports, but college administrators are committed to not doing anything that would further distinguish a "student athlete" from an ordinary one, especially now that the athletes are coming for a piece of the
piecake. They will preserve the amateur model at all costs to minimize expenses (labor) over the long term. Morph campuses into sports bubbles and all of a sudden the dealer is playing with both cards up, and the house ain't winning anymore.
It's disingenuous to say safety hasn't been a concern for presidents and athletic directors, but the cash cow has been considered right along with it. The thinking to trust college students at-large to come back to campus and follow any guidelines for an extended period of time contradicts conventional wisdom, and the adults in the room should know better.
Power 5 source to @Stadium: "College football season is done. I don't think everyone immediately follows MAC, but it gives other league presidents 1 more reason to make an easier decision. Biggest thing is unknown long-term impact of COVID & liability issues involved"— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 8, 2020
Whit Babock summed up the situation to reporters on Wednesday like this:
"We're all tiptoeing forward until we can't. We want to absolutely do it safely. We want to provide competition opportunities, and if we can't do it in the fall, we'll move it back and move it back and try to do that."
That made me think of Zeno's Dichotomy paradox.
Suppose Atalanta wishes to walk to the end of a path. Before she can get there, she must get halfway there. Before she can get halfway there, she must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, she must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.
In both cases, it feels more and more like we don't reach the end, and who the hell knows where we end up.