Guess we’ll see who’s boss now — the universities or the football teams.
In a letter to students Thursday, University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce wrote that more than 90 percent of classes will be online this fall. The decision was not a surprise, and it follows a similar decision July 23 announced by Washington State.
That takes care of the northern outposts of the Pac-12 Conference. The other 10 schools, if they haven’t already, will likely come to the same conclusion: The United States is too dysfunctional to take decisive actions to slow the spread of coronavirus, so until that changes, nearly everyone must stay away from in-person schooling.
We are too dumb to be educated in large groups.
Cauce’s decision follows by a day a push by Gov. Jay Inslee, who urged school districts to pursue remote learning, advising that it would be unsafe for students to return to the classroom across most of the state.
The decisions were sorrowful but necessary. We’ve proven that enough of us can’t be bothered with the “hardship” of a face mask. Until that changes, the only way to slow down infecting each other is to stay away from each other.
The UW has reported 265 COVID-19 cases at its Seattle campus, 154 from off-campus Greek Row, party central even during the lightly attended summer quarter. Imagine those numbers with a full 40,000-student campus.
Which brings us to college football.
Not long after the shutdown began in March, Commissioner Larry Scott unaccountably had a moment of principle.
“If the students, broadly, are not back on campus,” Scott told the San Jose Mercury News, “I don’t imagine the student-athletes being back under any scenario.”
But as Decision Day draws closer and campus doors close to in-person learning, Scott may be asking more from his imagination: Can it figure a way to find the “neuralyzer” device that Men In Black agents used to make people forget what they just saw and heard?
The concern is that Scott, himself a COVID-19 victim, may be giddy from the results so far from intake testing among Pac-12 athletes: An infection rate of less than two percent. That’s a good sign — if the athletes were going into a bubble. But they aren’t.
They are mostly inhabitants of the real world, trying to do Zoom classes, many in off-campus apartments surrounded by roommates, girlfriends and fanboys, some of whom haven’t been tested and don’t like masks.
It’s true that athletes are safer in their current sports environment than the rest of us in ours, and are likely to have only mild, if any, symptoms. But we are only beginning to learn about the long-term consequences of covid (check out the twitter hashtag #longcovidSOS), yet we do know how easily transmissible is the disease from young people to more vulnerable cohorts.
Kids are vulnerable too — to misinformation spread on social media, which is where most live.
The confusion leads to anxiety. That’s a big reason why Scott and the league execs were clobbered Sunday with a player revolt by the self-titled #WeAreUnited, a group of Pac-12 players who claim their peers number in the hundreds. They threatened to opt out of whatever 202o season there may be if the conference didn’t immediately address a lengthy list of issues, chief among them player safety regarding COVID-19.
It’s rare that a football player will admit to being scared. But many are. Yet he dares not raise his voice alone, or risk being threatened by a head coach such as Washington State’s Nick Rolovich. The Cougars coach soiled what had been a positive reception to his first off-season when he seemed to threaten WR Kassidy Woods if he threw in with the protesters.
A recording of the phone call between coach and player given to the Spokesman-Review pretty much put the cuffs on the coach. Woods was opting out for the season because of a health concern, but Rolovich took a dim view of Woods also associating with the rebels. Cue Emperor Palpatine memes. That’s how coach-think works.
A teammate, DT Lamonte McDougle, tweeted a take on his own situation, saying he needed to play despite the risk, calling himself a lab rat:
I agree with everything this movement is fighting especially the health concerns but not playing this season isn’t an option for me I got ppl that need to eat. so if the NCAA wants to use me as a lab rat it is what it is.
— Lamonte McDougle (@ninetheslime) August 2, 2020
A lab rat. If that is how McDougle sees his circumstance, WSU, the Pac-12 and the NCAA have a heavy lift coming.
That lift was supposed to have begun Thursday night. Scott and league officials were to have had their first Zoom meeting with leaders of the group. Of all commissioners, Scott should have some empathy, having experienced the infection.
COVID-19 is a much more pernicious presence in the lives of Black families, because the number of infections is so disproportionate to their population.
On a group Zoom call Thursday with Seahawks second-year WR DK Metcalf, I asked whether any close friends or family had COVID. He said yes, two cousins, both recovered.
“It’s real out there,” he said. “I’m not gonna let it affect me or anything, but I’m taking precautions. My family has it, and I got my teammates in the back of my mind. I’m gonna take care of them, but I’m not gonna let the virus slow me down, or try to make make it bigger than what it is.
“I’m like, God is bigger than this virus — that’s the way I look at it.”
That may be true. But as we wait for that evidence, college players are counting on Larry Scott to look at the evidence of empty campuses to tell him again what he knew in the spring. Unless he wants the slogan to change from Conference of Champions to Conference of Lab Rats.