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CU Buffs’ Rick George: College football needs universal leadership

Pac-12, Big Ten postponed season while other conferences set to play in fall

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – FEBRUARY 12, 2020: University of Colorado Athletic Director, Rick George, addresses the media after Head Football Coach, Mel Tucker, announces he is leaving. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

When the Pac-12 made the decision to postpone all sports competitions through the end of the year, conference leadership said it was a unanimous decision.

“We all recognized this was the morally correct thing to do,” Oregon president Michael Schill said.

Football Bowl Subdivision conferences haven’t been as agreeable.

The Big Ten has made the same decision as the Pac-12, along with the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences. The other six Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, however, are pressing forward.

Despite every team and conference dealing with the same issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the response hasn’t been the same. That is indicative of a broader issue, Colorado athletic director Rick George said.

“I don’t know if my peers share the same thing but I certainly think that this would be a time for us to figure out one voice for college football and what that looks like,” George said. “I just think it’s something that’s necessary, because everybody’s doing different things and that doesn’t work when you’re faced with really difficult decisions and challenges.”

Division I-A football hasn’t had that one voice, or one leader. While the NCAA governs most sports, the FBS championship is separate from the NCAA and the system is set up for each conference to make its own choices. That’s been the case for years and the sport has managed to avoid disaster, but this year could be different.

As of Thursday, 54 of the 130 FBS schools have opted out of the fall season, with 76 aiming to play this season.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said this week, “We tried to be very collaborative and communicative with our peers across the country, but at the end of the day, our presidents and chancellors looked at what was the best interest of Pac-12 student-athletes based on the advice of, frankly, what’s going on in our communities. … People are just trying to figure out the best they can, I think, with student-athlete welfare in mind. And that may lead to differences and we accept that.”

The Pac-12 CEO group based its decision in part on the uncontrolled nature of the coronavirus. California, home to four Pac-12 schools, leads the country in total cases, and Arizona, home to two Pac-12 schools, is second nationally in cases per capita.

Other conferences are dealing with similar issues.

Of the 76 schools still planning to play, 28 are located in states that rank in the top-10 of coronavirus cases per capita and 12 others are in Texas, which ranks third nationally in total cases.

Pac-12 medical advisors recommended it is safer to not play fall sports at this time. Armed with the same information, however, the medical advisors in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC have given the green light – for now.

Lack of leadership at the national level has allowed for a situation that has currently led to 41.5 percent of the FBS teams opting out and 58.5 percent moving forward.

“Everybody’s got their different groups they’re listening to and whatever decisions those other conference make, they’ll have to make those decisions,” George said.

That division doesn’t happen in other sports. Dan Gavitt, for example, is the NCAA’s vice president of basketball, and Lynn Holzman is vice president of women’s basketball. While there is discussion among committees in those sports, there is ultimately one voice at the top.

“I think Dan Gavitt, with men’s basketball, does an amazing job with the NCAA and having some focus,” George said.

Perhaps more so than any other year, this year may shine more light on the need for focus and national leadership in college football. George is on the selection committee for the College Football Playoff, which is already in control of which teams play for the national title. CFP executive director Bill Hancock would be a potential candidate for the lead voice for the sport.

Whether it’s Hancock or someone else, however, George believes it’s time to galvanize the highest level of college football.

“I’ve said this before that somehow we’ve got to get football together nationally, where we’re speaking from one voice and we have one direction,” George said. “We don’t have that. I’m not being critical of anybody. I’m just telling you that we need to do that and I’ve said that before. I’m very confident in saying that again today.”