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Rooney: Pac-12 cancellations add to a college football season slipping away

Buffs have kept safe, but sacrifices might prove futile

BOULDER, CO – November 7, 2020: Colorado running back Jarek Broussard finds some running room against UCLA at Folsom Field. (University of Colorado Athletics)
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The Pac-12 Conference endured its share of both praise and criticism on Aug. 11 when, alongside the Big Ten, it took the cautious approach to football in the pandemic era by postponing the season until the spring.

The past three months have played out with enough drama to fill years and years of column fodder. The Pac-12 was the last of the major conferences to announce its return to play this fall, buoyed by a rapid testing program the league believed would help keep its teams on the field once the season finally kicked off.

All of the sudden it seems waiting until the spring might have been the most prudent choice after all.

Week two of the Pac-12 schedule hasn’t quite kicked off yet and already the league is mired in cancellations and a very real concern that college football might get shut down long before it reaches the finish line.

On Friday, the Pac-12 issued a release essentially apologizing for coronavirus tests last week that proved to be false-positives that kept Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, defensive end Trey LaBounty, and receiver Connor Wedington out of action for the Cardinal’s opening loss at Oregon. Presumably, all three will be in uniform when Stanford hosts Colorado on Saturday afternoon, assuming the game commences as planned.

The league also canceled Cal’s game at Arizona State, while it was revealed Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards had tested positive for COVID-19, putting ASU’s visit to Boulder next week in serious jeopardy. All of that went down before noon, and shortly thereafter the Pac-12 announced that Utah at UCLA also is off this week’s docket due to too many positive tests among the Utes. As this column was getting hammered out, the league pivoted to allow Cal and UCLA to match up on Sunday morning at the Rose Bowl.

Anyone who loves sports wanted to see college football back in action. But at what point is enough enough? There is no rational basis for any belief the virus situation, in college sports or otherwise, will improve in the weeks and months to come.

Even without any additional cancellations, the Pac-12 has seen a full third of its scheduled games wiped off the first two weeks of the season. Nationally, about 40 percent of all games at the FBS level have been canceled this week, including four big-time matchups in the SEC. Granted, many believed simply finishing a season, asterisks and all, would be a win for college football and allow the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic to be blunted somewhat by recouping the television revenue. Yet even the small victory of finishing the season is growing remote.

Given the mass cancellations and players turning up positive across the country, it is difficult to argue continuing the season is a prudent idea. In March, the NCAA was willing to cancel the NCAA basketball tournaments when the COVID-19 issue was more of a threat than a crippling reality. With spiking numbers across the nation, and more than 240,000 Americans dead, that crippling reality has arrived. And yet the games, at least some of them, play on.

To their credit, the Buffs seemingly have embraced the sacrifices necessary to keep their season alive. The football team remained semi-sequestered in a hotel throughout the preseason, and the parties on the Hill that have been cited as a source of the virus spreading locally haven’t been jock-fueled affairs. CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle has had most of his team in Boulder since early June, with the rest trickling in over the summer, and there have been no positive tests within his program.

Staying within your own very tight, team-oriented social circle is no easy thing for a bunch of 18 to 22-year olds, and the football Buffs will undergo an additional round of testing in California in line with local health ordinances. They deserve credit for getting this far safely.

Those sacrifices may prove moot, however. The Buffs face a tough but winnable challenge Saturday afternoon at Stanford. Given the situation at ASU and around the league, it might be the last chance to watch the Buffs for several weeks.

Weeks, if we’re lucky. Unfortunately one gets the sense the college football season is slipping away.