Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Column: Big Ten Football returns, it feels iffy, maybe wrong, but it means a lot to many

September 17, 2020
<p>Spartan football team members celebrate during the game Nov. 30, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans beat the Terrapins 19-16.</p>

Spartan football team members celebrate during the game Nov. 30, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans beat the Terrapins 19-16.

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Big Ten football is back. 

For better or worse.

One student said his birthday falls on the new opening day for Big Ten football this year, Oct. 24, 2020. Brendan Ryan, a student at the University of Michigan, is a senior. 

It is the perfect birthday gift, he told me. Another email came in today saying one MSU student doesn’t give a damn if Michigan State goes 0-8, he’s just happy.

But some aren’t happy with the announcement that came on the morning of Sept. 16, as the Big Ten officially voted amongst the chancellors and presidents to approve an eight-game plan for a fall football season, and that’s OK too.

It may not be the safest idea, right? There is a medical plan for safety in place. But many think the safest option is to not play.

It feels weird and almost wrong to have it back. But having Big Ten football back seemingly at the snap of a hot mic and the fingers of 15 men in a room full of suits and more money then I can dream of, I guess, is the most 2020 way this could happen.

I’m still happy, I can’t help it. 

I won’t discredit those who say it could end in disaster — but let sports fans and those who have covered the games have this moment. It means a lot to not just students, athletes and the media — but it provides a sliver of what we remember only a year ago.

Even if it is just a game, my parents are from the heart of Ohio, from a football town in a football state. I never played the game, but my father did.

Football is what has bonded my father and me, we’ve enjoyed countless games together as he an Ohio State fan, and I, have grown so close over this simple, violent and arbitrary game.

The announcement came after days of speculation. It is good for fans and people to have an escape from the sad realities of our pandemic riddled world that we live in. 

I understand the risks and things at stake, but that’s why if 5% of a team tests positive — you shut it down, per the Big Ten’s plan they released early on Sept. 16.

Other conferences are playing, the cutoff for the College Football Playoff neared. The Big Ten needs money from TV deals. It makes sense, especially from a financial standpoint.

It won’t be the same this year, maybe not next year either. I won’t be back in the press box this fall, it might be a while until I am back in that bird’s nest above the gridiron.

I won’t have the walks in my suit from my house on Gunson Street through crowds of fans to the entrance of Spartan Stadium during my final year here at MSU. I won’t have the roar of a crowd in my headset when I broadcasted games for the MSU Student Radio Station, Impact 88.9 FM and I won’t have the camaraderie of those who covered those games with me, not this year.

Stadiums will be silent, maybe sad for those on the field as it is for us outside of it. In a year of losing everything we know to be normal and stable due to an invisible disease, this is right on key. 

This situation feels like a metaphor for the turmoil 2020 has sent us into as a country.

We’ll still have the seasons, cool fall weather beating down on us who gather in small groups to enjoy one more thing that resembles a normal life. A crack of football helmets and yells of coaches replacing the rise and fall of the crowd in an empty stadium is symbolic of the life we live now.

Hope, is what we all hang on to these days, isn’t it? That’s what the eight games of conference-only football in the Big Ten being back brought me. 

The Big Ten has outlined a plan, its approved, MSU’s President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. is an infectious disease doctor. I trust that judgment.

Things aren’t as safe as we want them to be, I don’t know if they will be anytime soon. 

But that obviously has been considered by the Big Ten. That’s why this feels wrong, feels dirty. I’m torn by this feeling of love for the game and fear of the unknown.

Just like the fact universities won’t pay athletes, we won’t get to watch games in person. That is safe, students will gather off-campus on gameday anyway, outbreaks may happen. But that bridge will be crossed by the decision-makers who chose to bring back the game that brings so many together in the Midwest.

Regardless it is what the Big Ten has decided and living with that decision is something the conference and these universities will have to do.

For better or worse.

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