Belinson: College athletes deserve better than this

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell and Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz shake hands before the start of the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series game Sept. 8, 2018.

Matt Belinson

In times of crisis — and I would count a global pandemic as one — leadership is paramount.

But what happens when that desperately needed leadership is absent, or even worse, flat out negligent in its duties to those it serves? Well, you end with an outcome similar to what took place Tuesday, and frankly over the last month, in the college football world.

Tuesday seemed to be the near end of the 2020 college football season before it even began, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences both electing to postpone the 2020 football season and all other fall sports to the spring of 2021.

Hours later, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) stood their ground and remained confident in playing football this fall. And by Wednesday morning, the Big 12 announced a revised schedule along with new COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

So now that the dust has settled and all of the Power Five have made their decisions on football this fall, the most important piece in this confusing and frustrating college football puzzle has been ignored and expected to continue and roll with the punches: the student-athletes.

College athletes and their families deserve better than this.

Let me make my position clear, I think the Big Ten and Pac-12 can’t be faulted for making the move to the spring. COVID-19 is not going away, and frankly, with college campuses opening up, I would expect it to get a second wind in the coming months.

But why make this monumental decision now? 

Why bring hundreds of kids back on campus and have noncontact practice, film sessions and tease them with the idea that those in charge have their best interests at heart? The Big Ten literally released a new conference-only schedule last week, but now it is time to shut all fall sports down?

Big Ten athletes deserved to hear this news months ago before it seemed like a season may actually happen. It is disgraceful and Big Ten leaders should be embarrassed for putting their student-athletes in a position like that.

The Ivy League canceled fall sports a month ago, so what exactly has changed in the month since that decision? Nothing with COVID-19 has changed, but the so-called leaders just decided to continue pushing off real decisions until it got closer and closer to the start of the season.

I could not imagine being told one thing for months and then right before I was ready to play I am told now my health and safety are the top priorities in making this decision. If that was the case, then what was the point of having players return to campus and continually telling them a season is happening? 

And this isn’t just me ripping the Big Ten in this column, no I think I will give the Pac-12 a piece of my mind as well. 

In the Pac-12’s release about the postponement of fall sports to 2021, the Conference guarantees the scholarships of all fall sport athletes but then follows that up by asking the NCAA for something kind of important:

“Additionally, the Pac-12 Conference strongly encourages that the NCAA grant students who opt out of competition this academic year an additional year of eligibility.”

Hello? What exactly have you been doing for the last four months?

These discussions with the NCAA should have been happening months ago when it was clear COVID-19 was not going away, and to now hope and pray the NCAA will make the right call and agree to have an extra year of eligibility granted to hundreds of athletes is the exact definition of wishful thinking.

How have you not thought about guaranteeing the eligibility of your student-athletes long before you came to this decision? 

Plain and simple: it’s because the student-athletes were never the top priority.

And this lack of leadership falls on every conference in the Power Five, making these last four months for me as a media member difficult to understand. I can’t imagine being an athlete and watching no one take charge for my rights during the whole summer.

These last few days remind me of that wonderful scene in “The Office” where Michael, Dwight and Andy are all standing and waiting to fire their pretend guns at each other in a standoff. They are all hoping one of them makes the first move.

The same can be said for the Power Five, how about all of you come together and stand for something instead of letting others make the first move for you.

How can one medical expert at Duke say it is safe to play football this fall, while other medical professionals in the Big Ten see it totally different?

These conferences are showing us they have not been in communication with one another and have gone about this process blindly without secondhand judgement from the other conferences across the country.

College athletes deserve to be treated like they matter, because at the end of the day nothing in the sport would happen without them.

How hard is it for basic things like uniform testing protocols for a multibillion dollar industry to come up with across the country? How about coaching staffs with respect for their players? Are these demands too much to ask for in 2020?

Maybe things could have gone smoother if players had a seat at the table on discussions surrounding their health and safety while playing during a global pandemic. It’s just a thought.

To put it simply, it’s all about wishful thinking for these conferences.

After wishful thinking and no unified leadership, it’s now left to the student-athletes to pick up the pieces of failure from the top on down.