Power 5 Conference CFB Civil War: Science vs. The System

At the very least, this COVID-19 pandemic has exposed NCAA football for what it is: a billion dollar industry functioning under the guise of glorified amateurism and largely exploiting young African-American student-athletes to make it happen. 

The public has acknowledged this for some time now and putting pressure on the NCAA to make changes. Top hoopers have been opting to go pro instead of deal with it. Slowly but surely the NCAA has been pressured to loosen its stranglehold on scholarship athletes and allow them to share in that massive revenue-generating machine. 

As NCAA power conference schools continue to clash on the issue of shutting down the Fall football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA is trying to right wrongs of the past, while simultaneously claiming to have no control over what various conferences decide to do with football this Fall. 

The other Fall sports are a wash, but football which comprises over 60 percent of the total revenue at these public D-1 universities, is still on the table for some conferences, despite the advice of the world’s greatest medical minds to shut down the season in order to curb the spread of the virus. 

Where’s The Leadership?

At a time when college football is fractured and flustered and blame is getting slung like a snowball fight, NCAA President Mark Emmert has decided to fall back from his leadership role and just watch it burn down. He has made it clear that the NCAA has no authority to tell any FBS school it can’t play college football in the fall. At the same time, he declares that the NCAA “can’t have a legitimate Championship in any sport other than FBS Football” because there aren’t enough schools with teams participating. 

Emmert said the NCAA has been in contact with Division I commissioners and they are mulling ways to move forward with championships in the spring, which logistically would be a nightmare.
“If schools and conferences want to move forward, and try and have it and more than half of them want to do it — and that’s surely the indication now — then let’s do it,” he said. “We can use the fall, as I said, to keep kids healthy, keep them engaged with their coaches and their athletic departments. Focus on their academic success. Work with them and let them practice and stay ready to play, then let’s go compete at that time.”
The Big Ten and PAC-12 have suspended their Fall seasons, including football. However, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are moving forward with their plans to play football this Fall despite dire warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that if recommended coronavirus measures aren’t followed, the US risks the worst fall in public health history.
Much of it is just posturing and pandering to a specific group. As we previously mentioned, the other Power 5 schools will inevitably follow.

As of right now, however, we have a civil war of sorts, among the Power 5 schools with some schools risking backlash and billions of dollars to do what it thinks is medically prudent and other schools taking a hard stance on having some sort of a football season in full confidence that they contain a virus outbreak among student-athletes. 

College Football Culture’s Defining Moment 

“The singular most stunning moment in the history of college sports,” is how ESPN college football guru Paul Finebaum described the chaos in college football. It is simply shocking how dysfunctional this sport is.” 

It’s hard to argue with Finebaum when you see all of the mixed messages, disregard for science and the health of student-athletes that some of these schools are exhibiting.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 advisory panel member Dr. Carlos del Rio says that leaders at these institutions wanting to play football have their priorities screwed up. “I feel like the Titanic,” the doctor said. “We have hit an iceberg….”We’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play.” 

Regardless of how badly the players and coaches want to play, if the majority of medical experts are suggesting a shutdown, it’s pretty messed up for any coach or school to insist that it will use their students as guinea pigs during a pandemic. They can talk about the opportunities that student-athletes will miss, but that pales in comparison to the possible long term effects that contracting COVID could have on current athlete years down the line. 

The NCAA doesn’t seem to be thinking about that. The NCAA President has basically said he will let the schools fight it out until a victor prevails while he worries about executing some maneuvers to keep his governing body popular with incoming students and in the media. 

College Athletes Bill of Rights 

A College athletes Bill of rights was released this week, asserting that athletes would be allowed to market individual naming rights. US Senators hope the bill will be a framework for ongoing conversations. 

While on one hand, Emmert claims to be powerless during one of the defining cultural moments in college football history, on the other hand Emmert asked Congress to help create a nationwide standard for the bill which intends to give athletes a larger voice in the rulemaking process as well. 

The split between people in this country as it pertains to COVID and the risks involved and the political ridiculousness of wearing masks versus not wearing one is sharp. Times like these desperately demand a leader to step up and galvanize the football community and have a uniform plan going forward. 

Nobody wants these student-athletes to miss their sports season. We all wish there was earlier thought put into divising a real plan for the season. Back in March, the medical world was telling everyone how to bring down the number of cases. Many of us just sat and hoped it would go away.

Right now it’s the Wild, Wild West and some schools are not willing to give up the bag just yet as Emmert plays both sides of the fence. 


JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.