Can the 2021 college football season be a normal one? | Hurt
At this time a year ago, all the college football world was talking about was the coronavirus. What else could anyone talk about, after all? The 2020 season was hanging in the balance.
On Aug. 1, 2020, the SEC announced it would play a season consisting only of conference games, under a severe testing regimen and greatly limited attendance. Ten days after that, the Big Ten announced that it would not play at all in 2020. That put the entire college season in jeopardy as the ducklings of the Pac-12 fell quickly in line.
Only the united stance of the three remaining conferences including an alliance of the SEC and Big 12, for all you irony lovers out there – kept the season moving forward.
Those were harsh times. I was rough on the Big Ten, feeling it was more interested in its own agenda than it was in seeking solutions. After a year, judgments can be more tempered as the debate, even with vaccines available, has become more and more fractious and political. What’s remarkable, though, is that so many of the precautions that were part of last year’s preparations are hardly being discussed.
From Media Days 2021:Everything Alabama football coach Nick Saban said at SEC Media Days 2021
There has been far more talk in the past week about possible conference realignment than about the possibility that 2021 will be anything other than a return to pre-COVID normalcy. Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne has said repeatedly that the intention is to have a full season with 100% capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A few things, like the long-running Fan Day, aren’t coming back, but the general attitude is that the tailgates and the crowds and the games and the atmosphere will be back in their old form.
That’s not to criticize Alabama’s effort. Nick Saban and other Alabama coaches have gone above and beyond in advocating vaccinations in a state that isn’t paying much attention. Alabama’s football team, as Saban noted in Hoover last week, is at least at 90% vaccinated and the trend at UA may have football at 95 percent: not an official number but a reading of which way the wind is blowing as the opening of 2021 football practice approaches.
Byrne, too, has done as much as he could. He is a powerful voice, but at some point he can’t overrule the UA Board of Trustees or Governor Kay Ivey. In her public statements, including an opinion piece published in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Gov. Ivey reiterated that the “state of emergency” was over in Alabama despite a sharp rise in COVID cases and that there would be no mandate from Montgomery requiring masks, social distancing or vaccinations. In the face of that policy, Byrne (and all of UA can only do so much.)
Without rehashing the political arguments or trying to fit all of Alabama’s diverse population into a few statistics, as national observers do, there are a couple of reasons that probably contributed to those decisions. First, there is an economic factor at work. Businesses took a heavy blow in 2020. Some didn’t survive, and more might not survive another shutdown in 2021 (whether that is the right thing to do or not). For another, plenty of people feel like they were promised that if they accepted the changes if 2020, things would be normal. Having done a year in Purgatory, many people simply aren’t willing to do another.
Does that mean those attitudes are successful? No one knows. The virus made no promises that it would leave after a year. It will continue to do what viruses do, for as long as it can.
Is it more enjoyable to discuss Texas and Oklahoma and the pod system? Of course. Alabamians can still do more, with mandates or without. Alabama's athletics department will continue to do what it can do, and what it is allowed to do. There will be SEC games and hopefully no SEC forfeits. But normal? No one knows the answer.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt