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Rooney: World without college football a growing possibility

College athletics will be altered on other side of coronavirus scare

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado’s KD Nixon takes off with a pass. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

Ever so slowly, it is growing more feasible that Karl Dorrell could go unbeaten in his first season at the University of Colorado.

And it certainly won’t be something for Buffs fans, or anyone, to celebrate.

Can sports fans imagine a world without college football? In a few months, they may not have to imagine it. It might be the stark reality of the new normal.

While the unsettling spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to put the sporting world on hold — no NBA, no NHL, no NCAA basketball tournaments, no Major League Baseball and so much more — football has remained an enviable destination at the end of a dark tunnel. Envisioning a beautiful blue sky above a packed Folsom Field in September after we finally stumble out of our homes, blinking away the bright sun after weeks of forced solitude, is a fantastic way to pass the time.

Yet that vision might prove to be a teasing mirage.

During his conference call this week updating the media on all matters regarding CU Buffs athletics, athletic director Rick George reiterated it remains far too early to offer conjecture about a reorganized, or even a canceled, NCAA football season. Yet as the weeks pass and the situation continues to intensify, one of America’s favorite sporting pastimes inches closer to that proverbial line in the sand that might make the difference between the football season offering a small measure of anticipation and relief, or succumbing to the same fate as the NCAA basketball tournaments.

Consider the past month alone. On March 5, Dorrell had just been welcomed as CU’s new football coach while the men’s basketball team was preparing for its regular season finale in Utah while eyeing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Just days later, the college basketball world went from the announcement the Pac-12 Conference Tournament would be held without fans beginning with the quarterfinal round, to the cancellation of league tournaments across the nation, to the unprecedented cancellation of the NCAA Tournament all within about 24 hours.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Colorado governor Jared Polis, recommended all citizens who venture into the world beyond the shelter-at-home-edicts do so with homemade masks or scarves covering their faces. Friday also marked the deadliest day so far in our country during this crisis, with over a thousand deaths attributed to the coronavirus. That’s not a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s an escalation, and until matters begin trending in another direction — a turn of events no expert believes is anywhere close to imminent — the college football season will remain in the crosshairs of a virus that is gutting our country of so much more than its sports slate.

It should go without saying that the sports calendar is a meaningless casualty of a national emergency that, so far, has cost thousands of lives while nearly 10 million have been forced to apply for unemployment benefits over the past two weeks alone. From this corner, here’s hoping everyone reading this column, or any of them, is safe and healthy along with every person in every reader’s orbit.

Yet this remains a sports column, and college athletics on the other side of this crisis will take on a vastly different complexion. That landscape will be even more unrecognizable if the college football slate is gutted as well. Last week, the Associated Press reported the per-school allotment handed out by the NCAA would fall $375 million under budget. CU’s revenue through football tickets sales alone topped $20 million last year. The average fan and big-time donors alike might feel the economic strain and pull back their financial support of the Buffs. Fates like reduced salary for coaches and athletics personnel, or even the dropping of non-revenue sports, may not befall CU, but they almost certainly are coming to the NCAA.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that in Boulder. And here’s hoping the coronavirus national trend starts moving the other way soon.  Otherwise that festive sunny day at Folsom will remain a homebound daydream.