How do we get through this college football season? Not the games, necessarily. It was always legitimate to ask why major-college football felt it necessary to push through this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now we must figure out what's left.
It's a larger, more layered discussion now. Florida vs. LSU became the 29th FBS game to be postponed before Week 7 has kicked off; this despite only half the nation's 130 teams being active at this time. Ole Miss is in the midst of its own outbreak and may not have enough players to field a team this week. Arguably the greatest coach in the history of the game, Alabama's Nick Saban, tested positive for COVID-19. All of that happened Wednesday. It's time to consider where we go from here.
No amount of defensive genius or recruiting or Heisman Trophy campaigns can solve this one. Now, it's a matter of health. Saban and his athletic director Greg Byrne contracting the coronavirus is just the biggest headline in a region of the country that "needs" football the most. Luckily, both are asymptomatic. If you needed a living legend to be infected to get the message …
We'll put this latest development in football language: If the ability of Alabama and -- by extension -- the SEC to contend for a championship is impacted, what kind of season is it anyway?
Unfortunately, the storyline going into Alabama vs. Georgia will be about COVID-19 infecting the 68-year-old Saban. Coronavirus has done what no opponent could; it's made Alabama into the sympathetic, gutty, little underdog. One of the greatest coaches in the history of the game has the dreaded disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has been telling us for months that the coronavirus doesn't give a damn. So did a Power Five trainer who told CBS Sports in the spring that this season shouldn't be about winning. It should be about getting as many FBS teams through as healthy as possible.
Maybe these latest developments hammer home that point. Two SEC games have been postponed in the last three days (Vanderbilt-Missouri, Florida-LSU). Florida is enduring an outbreak that has already infected 21 players and a couple coaches. Neither it nor Vanderbilt had enough healthy scholarship athletes to play their games when factoring in contact tracing and non-coronavirus injuries.
The SEC may soon have to consider pausing the season, though this is not to blame the conference specifically. The SEC has been out front with its protocols. Until this week, its plan to wait until Sept. 26 to start the season looked brilliant.
Commissioner Greg Sankey threatened knuckle-headed coaches who didn't keep their masks on during games. Alabama has been testing daily for months. Florida started this week. But those are only tests, not cures. Nothing is certain until the spread stops, be it through nationwide mask wearing or universal access to a working vaccine.
The SEC, like the Big 12 and ACC, built in bye weeks knowing this sort of thing could happen. What are the odds of the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC shoe-horning in a season that will be played straight through without byes? I'll answer: Not good.
Meanwhile, the week of the biggest game of the regular season sees Saban resting at home.
Let's hope the next bulletin doesn't involve Crimson Tide players.
More than anything else, playing football this season has morphed into a giant infomercial for wearing a mask.
Those who haven't contracted COVID-19 in the football community have seen their spirits battered by it. For every upset, there's an upset stomach. It's hard to live like this.
Are you, like me, wondering at times: What's next?
Think about the coaches, their families and their children. Florida State's Mike Norvell and Arkansas State's Blake Anderson are among numerous coaches who contracted COVID-19 and have now recovered from it. No one put that into their contract.
As for the players, sure, we know they want to play, but should they be playing? They've been told the game is safe enough. They're assuming that risk. But the stakeholders created that risk by staging a season.
Whatever right or wrong there is in that decision won't be known for years.
For now, the game may be spiraling down toward the FBS commissioners' second-biggest fear -- having to shorten or cancel this season in the middle of it. (The biggest fear was not playing at all in 2020-21.)
Once again, COVID-19 doesn't give a damn either way.
Let's also hope the bad news stops here at Alabama. Nationally, we know it won't because it hasn't. Already, 29 FBS games have been canceled or postponed. That's the equivalent of wiping an entire Saturday's worth of games off the schedule. And we're not even halfway through this truncated season. And five FBS conferences have not even started playing yet.
Godspeed, Nick and Greg. The season moves on without you on Saturday, but it's hard to see through the fog very far in the future.
Someone, please turn on the headlights.