The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Winners & Losers

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Finally, thankfully, welcome to a brand new season of college football — ya know, that sport played on a (sometimes) green field? — giving us a much-needed respite from an offseason rife with off-field scandals, arrests and, of late, more conference turbulence.

While the title’s been tweaked a bit, the review of the weekend’s action below is still the same ol’ one-stop slice of Les Miles-approved college football turf it was last year.  And, just as it was last year, and as will be the case every week from here on out, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

“OR-ih-guhn”? Try “Or-ih-DONE”
Their starting quarterback is facing a felony charge and is indefinitely suspended.  One of their leading returning receivers was ruled ineligible for at least the opener.  Their most experienced offensive lineman could be lost for the entire 2011 season.  And then there’s the whole Willie Lyles imbroglio looming in the background.  So, with all of that off-field mess going on, what does No. 4 LSU do?  Go out and beat the No. 3 and reigning BcS runners-up Oregon 40-27, that’s what they did.  It was far from pretty, with the Tigers the beneficiaries of four UO turnovers and 12 penalties while producing a meager 273 yards of offense.  And Jordan Jefferson‘s replacement under center, Jarrett Lee, was, well, Jarrett Lee, minus the backbreaking pick-sixes featured prominently on his QB calling card.  While Lee kept up the LSU tradition of throwing for less than 100 yards in four full quarters of football, he did avoid any type of turnover while also adding a touchdown pass as an unexpected bonus.  And that vaunted Ducks rushing attack?  Stonewalled, averaging just 3.4 yards on their 28 carries.  Add it all up, and it turned into a somewhat improbable win for The Mad Hatter, and set the Bayou Bengals on a course that could still end with a January trip to New Orleans.  Stay out of the bars, though.  Just sayin’ is all.

This spud’s for you
We can hear the critics now. “But PAAAWWWLLL, it wasn’t (insert Alabama, LSU, the 2006/2008 Florida Gators or the 1977/1979 Pittsburgh Steelers here)!”  You know what?  It doesn’t matter; No. 5 Boise State went into the heart of SEC country and is headed back to Idaho with a win over a ranked member of the preeminent conference in college football.  And it wasn’t even the margin of victory that was most impressive; rather, it was how the Broncos completely stomped all over No. 19 Georgia’s manhood in every single facet of the game.  Say what you want about their blue turf and their soft conference slate and whatever else, but the Broncos have shown in nearly every “national stage” moment of the past few years that that’s exactly where they belong.  One of these days, they’ll get the nationwide respect they deserve.  Because it was “just” UGA, however, that likely won’t be the case.  Again.

Just a bro bein’ a bro
Steve Spurrier shocked nearly every interested observer by announcing earlier this week that sophomore Connor Shaw would start the opener at quarterback against East Carolina instead of two-year-plus starter Stephen Garcia.  Fortunately for Spurrier and his Gamecocks, Garcia’s chill like that and doesn’t allow such slights to affect him in the least.  Trailing 17-0 to Conference USA’s East Carolina with Shaw in charge of the offense, Garcia was inserted into the lineup.  Two touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown later, the No. 12 Gamecocks were well on their way 56-37 season-opening win.  Regardless of whether it was just mind games or Spurrier truly believed Shaw was the best option, the Ol’ Ball Coach has no choice but to start Garcia in the SEC opener next weekend.

Scoreboard, Mother Nature
For the first time in the school’s long and storied history, a Michigan football game was called due to weather, with the Wolverines coming away with a 34-10 win over Western Michigan in a game that consisted of less than three quarters of play.  The Notre Dame-USF game in South Bend was suspended twice as well due to lightning in the area — the game ultimately took 5:59 to complete — prompting the stadium to be evacuated for the first time ever that anyone could recall.  Additionally, the Iowa-Tennessee Tech game was delayed for well over an hour due to a storm that blew through the area.  And that’s not all; the McNeese State-Kansas and Montana-Tennessee games were also delayed because of weather, as well as the Eastern Michigan-Howard game being postponed until Sunday.  We said it before and we’ll say it again: Craig James was the color man on the UM game; all this weather was The Big fan Upstairs’ way of saying #firecraigjames before somebody gets hurt.

Don’t tread on us — if you don’t mind
Long the butt of jokes, most of which were well deserved, the Big East decided to whip some ass on the opening weekend of the 2011 season.  Following West Virginia’s victory over Marshall on Sunday, the beleaguered football conference sports a spotless 8-0 mark after Week One.   Sure, four of the wins came against schools outside of Div. 1-A, and just one came against a school in a BcS conference (Syracuse over Wake Forest), but it’s the Big East and a non-basketball sport we’re talking about.  Baby steps, y’all.  Baby steps.

The prodigal son returns
Skip Holtz graduated from Notre Dame.  His father, Lou Holtz, won a national championship as head coach of the Irish and has a statue outside the stadium dedicated in his honor.  It was certainly an emotional return for the younger Holtz to South Bend as head coach of USF, made even more so by the Bulls “stunning”, rain-delayed “upset” over the No. 16 Irish.  After the game, Holtz brushed aside any notion of his past adding more weight to the present. “This game wasn’t about me – that would be selfish,” Holtz said following the 23-20 win. “This is a big win for our program. Our players weren’t even born when I was here. I wasn’t going to make it about me.”  Regardless of whether the Irish were overrated — again — it was a huge win for the USF football program.  And, even as he may not admit it publicly, it was huge for Holtz as well.

Neither Wile E. Coyote nor ACME were anywhere in sight
Saturday morning I busted the chops of the fledgling University of Texas at San Antonio just a wee bit.  Now, I come to praise them.  And their fans.  In UTSA’s first game ever, the Div. 1-AA (FCS) school ran over, through and around Div. II Northeastern State by the score of 31-3.  Not only was it the Roadrunners’ first-ever win, it was the first win for head coach Larry Coker — of the Miami Hurricane Cokers — since December of 2006.  Arguably even more stunning than UTSA breezing to the first win was the attendance; a whopping 56,743 were at the Alamodome to witness the momentous occasion.  So, not only do the Roadrunner players and coaches deserve a hearty “atta boy”, the program’s fans deserve a healthy round of applause for the phenomenal support they displayed.

Now go clean that pig sty of a room, young man…
The fact Nick Isham started Louisiana Tech’s opener against Southern Miss is not really all that remarkable in and of itself; after all, he came to the Bulldogs as a three-star recruit out of high school.  What makes Isham’s start remarkable, though, is the fact that he’s not even old enough to vote.  That’s right, Isham is a mere 17 years old, and won’t turn 18 until next month.  And the youngster actually acquitted himself well in a 19-17 loss to Southern Miss, completing 20-of-36 passes for 176 yards.  While he didn’t throw  a touchdown, he didn’t throw an interception either. And, oddly enough, Tech’s opponent also has some experience with young players at the position; Brett Favre was the same age as Isham when he made his debut for the Golden Eagles a couple of decades ago.

LOSERS

A win is a win is a loss
I get the fact that, including the best offensive player in the country as well as arguably the best one on the defensive side of the ball, Auburn suffered a tremendous amount of attrition this offseason and should not be expected to play at the level they reached last year this early in the season.  What also should not be expected — or accepted — is needing a last-minute touchdown at home against a WAC opponent that hasn’t had a winning season since Bill Clinton was in office.  The good news for the Tigers is they get Florida Atlantic at the end of this month.  The bad news?  They get Mississippi State and Clemson before then, and South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU in consecutive weeks after.  Attrition or not, Gene Chizik can’t allow another performance like that if he hopes to sniff five wins let alone a minor bowl berth.

Off the Mark, back on the hot seat
I really, really like and respect Mark Richt.  There are probably just a handful of coaches in big-time college football who I’d prefer coach one of my sons over Richt.  The reality is, however, the natives are beginning to get restless — again — and, after back-to-back disappointing seasons, the howling will likely be more vocal than at any point the past couple of years.  The thing is, after what UGA did in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, it’s not exactly unwarranted. Simply put, that was embarrassing, a veritable home game that turned into a romp for the supposedly inferior Boise State Broncos.  Coming off a 6-7 season, a beatdown at the hands of a “mid-major” was the last thing Richt’s warm backside needed.  Hey, speaking of hot seats…

Hornets, don’t you think you were a little hard on the Beavers?
If Mike Riley‘s seat was hot before the start of the season, that thing’s a veritable fireball after the opener.  Unbelievably, Riley’s Oregon State team dropped a game, in Corvallis no less, to Div. 1-AA (FCS) Sacramento State, a game in which they actually came back from a 21-6 fourth-quarter deficit.  And we can’t figure out what’s worse, the fact that OSU had to mount a two-score comeback at all, or the fact that they… ahhh, screw it.  It’s all equally bad for Riley & Company, especially when they look at the schedule and see No. 11 Wisconsin coming to town next weekend.

It’s, like, just the first weekend, man
Based on the first weekend, the Pac-12 probably can’t wait for Texas and Oklahoma to head west.  While the conference went 8-4, the losses — and even a couple of the wins — were not befitting a conference looking to improve their national image.  Of course, there was Oregon’s beatdown at the hands of LSU as well as the above-mentioned loss to a 1-AA school by OSU.  And UCLA’s 38-34 loss to Houston of Conference USA.  And Colorado’s loss to Hawaii in their first game as a member of the conference.  Throw in USC’s two-point win over Big Ten doormat Minnesota and Washington’s three-point win over 1-AA Eastern Washington, and it was a weekend that commissioner Larry Scott would likely rather forget.  Unless he adds UT and OU next week, of course.

Ya know what? Go ahead and grab that clipboard for a bit
Nick Saban came into the game against his alma mater Kent State with an open mind and a clear agenda as it pertains to the quarterback position: get both AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims equal reps and let the signal-calling chips fall where they may.  While both players tossed two interceptions during the 48-7 win, McCarron was the better of the two statistically — 226 passing yards and the lone touchdown pass for McCarron to 73 yards on just nine fewer attempts for Sims — and appeared more comfortable and poised for most of the game than did his counterpart.  After Saturday’s game, expect Sims to see more of the sideline next week at Penn State than he did this weekend.  And for McCarron to get a second consecutive start, with this one not including as much time off the field.

What the…
Leading BYU 13-7 with just over five minutes to play, and facing a third-and-27 from their own 21, the prudent call for Ole Miss would be to run the ball and, if you don’t convert, punt the ball to the Cougars and play defense, right?  Wrong.  Inexplicably, first-year Rebels offensive coordinator David Lee called for a pass play out of the shotgun.  Needless to say, things didn’t go according to Lee’s plan as quarterback Zach Stoudt was blindsided by BYU defender Kyle Van Noy, causing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by, who else, Van Noy.  That proved to be the winning score for the Cougars, with what led to that score proving to be a WTF moment for any Ole Miss fan who witnessed it.

First-degree fashion felony
That’s PGA touring pro John Daly Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley‘s choice of game-day attire there on the right.  Nothing else needs to be written.  Or, more to the point, nothing else can be written as I’m temporarily blind.

First-degree aggravated fashion felony
Call me old, call me stuck in the past, call me whatever you want, just don’t try to convince me those uniform abominations Georgia and Boise State wore Saturday night were anything but uniform abominations.  My goodness, I flipped the channel from Oregon-LSU on ABC over to ESPN and my first thought was, “why the hell are they showing an Arena League game? I thought BSU-UGA was supposed to be on?”  Those things were called Nike Combat Uniforms at their unveiling; the only thing I was combating was vertigo and the urge to vomit.  Penn State and Alabama and the like may not be cool or hip or whatever, but I’ll take those over that any day of the week and twice on Saturdays.  Now, you kids, go and get off my lawn…

ODDS & ENDS

Tom Wort was chosen by his teammates as the first defensive player who would wear the No. 12 jersey of Austin Box, the Oklahoma linebacker who tragically passed away this offseason.  Following the Sooners’ 47-14 win over Tulsa, Wort was awarded the game ball by his team.

Everett Withers, named North Carolina’s interim head coach following the firing of Butch Davis, picked up his first career win Saturday, an easy 42-10 romp over James Madison.  In a move that simply oozes class, Withers announced that he would be giving the game ball for the win to Davis.  Withers, you’re a good man regardless of what happens in your coaching future.

— On Aug. 24, Richmond head coach Latrell Scott was forced to resign following a drunk-driving arrest.  10 days later, interim head coach/offensive coordinator Wayne Lineburg took the Spiders on the road to Duke — and came away with a 23-21 win.  While the circumstances certainly made this win all the more satisfying, it certainly doesn’t come as a shock; the Spiders have beaten the Blue Devils the last three times the schools have squared off (2006, 2009).

— Injuries are an unfortunate part of football that carry no rhyme or reason to their occurrence. Unfortunately for several programs, injuries took a harsh toll on their roster in week one. Mizzou lost two defensive playmakers in defensive end Jacquies Smith dislocated his elbow and linebacker Will Ebner suffered a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for several weeks. Additionally, a pair of starters returning from season-ending injuries got off to a bad start in 2011. UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince got hurt — again — against Houston and Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Even one of the new guys — Iowa freshman running back Mika’il McCall — broke his ankle against Tennessee Tech and will miss the rest of the season.

— Seven true freshmen were among the 69 Alabama players who saw action during the Tide’s 48-7 rout of Kent State.  I don’t know whether those numbers are high, low or about normal, but it sure seems like a helluva lot.

— As expected, Joe Paterno coached Penn State’s season opener from the press box as the living legend continues to recover from injuries suffered in a collision during summer camp.  Fortunately, an elaborate system involving the telegraph and toga-clad couriers made for a seamless transition and allowed JoePa to stay in constant communication with the sidelines.

— JoePa wasn’t the only “experienced” coach to view his team’s first game from above.  After being forced off the bus on the way to Gainesville Friday due to severe hip discomfort, Howard Schnellenberger took in Florida Atlantic’s loss to Florida from the coaches box.  Schnellenberger had undergone hip replacement surgery last month, which led to the discomfort and the very brief hospital stay.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— In his first start at the collegiate level, North Carolina’s Bryn Renner set an ACC record by completing 22-of-23 passes (95.7 percent) in the Tar Heels’ 42-10 win over James Madison.  In fact, none of Renner’s pass attempts actually hit the ground; his lone incompletion was a second-quarter interception.  Renner completion percentage was just shy of former Tennessee QB Tee Martin‘s 95.8 percent back in 1998.

— After throwing for 310 yards in his first game back since suffering a torn ACL last year, Houston’s Case Keenum is now just 3,144 yards away from becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yardage.

— Following USC’s too-close for-comfort win over Minnesota, head coach Lane Kiffin said that his squad currently has “two good players”.  One of those players Kiffin was obviously referring to was wide receiver Robert Woods, who caught a school-record 17 passes in the 19-17 win.  The sophomore also caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Barkley, who we assume is the second good player Kiffin referred to.

— Speaking of Barkley, the junior put his own notch in the USC record book, setting a school record with 34 completions.

Landry Jones did nothing to hurt his status as a preseason Heisman favorite, throwing for 375 yards and a touchdown.

— Florida’s Chris Rainey became the third player since 1996 to have a rushing, receiving and return (blocked punt) touchdown in the same game.

— Tajh Boyd was 20-for-30 for 264 yards and three TDs in his debut as Clemson’s starter.

— Arkansas wide receiver Joey Adams‘ two punt returns for touchdowns (61, 78) tied an SEC record for most in a single game.

— Chandler Harnish accounted for six touchdowns — five passing, one rushing — to give Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren his first career win.

— Questionable all week due to an injury, Washington’s Chris Polk rushed for 125 yards in the Huskies win — barely — over Eastern Washington.

— Cincinnati dropped 72 points on poor Austin Peay, the third-most the Bearcats have scored in the school’s history.

— UCF scored a school-record eight rushing touchdowns in a 62-0 pasting of Charleston Southern.

— This is a leftover from Friday night, but it’s still worth a mention: Baylor had 263 total yards in 45-10 loss to TCU last season. At halftime of their eventual 50-48 win over the Horned Frogs, the Bears had 367 yards.

— Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner was on the receiving end of three Joe Bauserman touchdown passes in the Buckeyes’ season-opening 42-0 cruise over Akron.  Entering the game, Stoneburner had two receiving TDs in his entire career.

— With Luke Fickell‘s win in his first game as Ohio State’s head coach, Jack Ryder remains the last coach to lose his debut at the school.  That was back in 1892, incidentally.  And the winning coach that day?  None other than Joe Paterno.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

MAC football
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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”