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Rooney: Roadmap back to football season full of hurdles

Clarity on season should arrive over next month

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 7, 2019: University of Colorado’s KD Nixon is picked up by the fans to celebrate the 34-31 OT win over Nebraska on September 7, 2019. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Congrats to all the graduated senior student-athletes from the University of Colorado. You survived the strangest stretch run of any collegiate career on record and will be uniquely prepared for whatever new normal the world presents in the near future.

And what exactly will be next? The next seven or eight weeks might be called the eye of the pandemic storm, at least in terms of the scope of college athletics. By the end of June, perhaps the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 will have waned enough to offer a portal for the return of NCAA athletics at CU and beyond.

If not, sports fans better hope there’s another wave of gripping documentaries on the way to pass the time this fall.

The fate of the college football season, and in turn the rest of the fall athletics slate, is likely to be clarified by the end of June. During his most recent media conference call last week, CU athletic director Rick George reiterated it remains too early to project what the college football season will look like. That’s true. Yet while clarity will remain elusive for a while, a few ominous signs surfaced this week.

First, in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown announced a state-wide ban on all large gatherings, including sporting events, through September. Oregon and Oregon State both have three home games scheduled for September, including one of the season’s early marquee matchups with the Ducks hosting Ohio State on Sept. 12. OSU is supposed to open its home slate that same day against Colorado State, a week after the Rams and CU are scheduled to kick off the season in Fort Collins.

Gov. Brown’s end-of-September declaration was not a hard deadline, leaving the door open for that ban to be extended. It illustrates one of the biggest hurdles to those trying to outline a roadmap back to the college football season. If, for instance, Colorado is ready to open its campus and host large gatherings, even at less-than-capacity at Folsom Field, it won’t matter if other Pac-12 schools still have closed campuses and strict stay-at-home orders.

During a Friday night tweet-and-greet interview session on the NCAA Twitter account, NCAA president Mark Emmert made the stark admission that if students aren’t back on campus in August, then student-athletes won’t be on the playing fields.

Now, if by the end of June a normal football season appears unfeasible — a fate growing more likely with each passing week — that doesn’t mean there won’t be football at all. Count this corner among those who believe we’ll eventually see a delayed start to the football season, perhaps with less-than-capacity regulations in place at stadiums. That might mean a condensed schedule as well. If we don’t get that visit from Fresno State at Folsom, so be it.

Right now, the name of the game for the entire NCAA might be similar to the late Jim Valvano’s rallying cry of survive and advance. Survive the pandemic to compete again another day.

With furloughs and pay cuts ruling the day — Wisconsin was the latest high-profile athletic department to announce cuts Saturday, with AD Barry Alvarez, football coach Paul Chryst, and men’s basketball coach Greg Gard among those reportedly taking a 15% pay cut over the next six months — simply getting to the other side of this pandemic with athletic departments still on firm financial footing will be a bigger challenge than any school will face in an athletic competition.