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Let’s be clear, this is an absolute travesty

We hope the students, faculty, staff, and their families stay safe as college athletics inexplicably continues during a public health crisis.

Preparations For NCAA Tournament At TD Garden Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

These are challenging times for almost every single person on earth right now. Why are we making it worse by having college sports?

Coronavirus infections are increasing across the country. Anyone can get it, even if they’re careful. No matter your creed, class, or nationality, we have all reconfigured our everyday lives around risk avoidance in the name of survival. This global crisis is affecting every individual differently. Many are dealing with increased responsibilities childcare, or care for elderly family members. People are losing their jobs. Small businesses are shuttering nationwide.

And yet we are playing college sports, with basketball set to start today, even though the CDC is warning Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving and further precautionary restrictions are looming. Even if people are being as safe as possible, gatherings which combine multiple households this holiday season run the risk of turning into super-spreader events. Flight traffic was the highest it has been since mid-March.

The situation is going to get worse.

It wasn’t safe to start college football. Dozens of players on numerous teams and many head coaches have tested positive. This week, 16 games have been canceled due to positive testing and many teams don’t disclose data but have been able to say things like “most” of their players got it. How is that acceptable?

We know that even if you don’t die from it, COVID-19 has long-term effects that are not fully understood. And while they have the choice to opt out, players don’t really always have that choice. Is suffering the long-term impact of a once-in-a-lifetime virus really one of the occupational hazards of participating in college sports?

It should not be controversial to say that college basketball’s start should be delayed, at the very least. The Ivy League, the first collegiate body to cancel winter and spring sports back in March, has also canceled fall and winter sports this year. In many states across the country high school sports were deemed unsafe, but Division I revenue sports are on. Does the virus avoid college kids that are being exploited for the profit of others?

Do colleges and college towns need the revenue and business activity that comes from sports that badly? If that’s true, we need to be a lot more concerned about the economics of higher education and the outsized role that athletics and growing the endowment play in the decisions of senior leadership. Clearly the people in charge have moved on from the primary mission of higher education.

This isn’t totally on the athletic decision-makers. College presidents have made numerous decisions in the interest of protecting their bags. Campuses don’t need to be open. Most students don’t need to be on campus. But the predatory real estate and food services businesses that colleges and universities operate needed the customers.

Of course, this is all very easy for me to say, I’m not actually making any of these decisions. To an athletic director or FBS head coach, the opinion of this random blogger is less relevant than the reading on a fortune cookie.

But after everything we know about the people behind the decision, do they really deserve the benefit of the doubt? Do you really believe they are making these decisions in good faith, with the health and safety of the student-athletes as a top concern?

After all the nepotism that goes into the staffing of athletic administration and coaching, how intentionally non-diverse this world is, including the extended universe of media, donors, sponsors, and how accepting they are of the exploitative practice of major college athletics during “normal times,” is it really that surprising for them to be fighting for their right to make exorbitant salaries off of unpaid, mostly Black, student labor?

These are, after all, the people who are MEETING IN PERSON TO DELIBERATE ON THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS, the ones who’ve decided that Big Ten basketball is so crucial for the health of a nation that we need the unpaid students playing on Christmas Day.

I don’t stand to make piles of money off of the labor of “student-athletes” so I don’t have any need to explain why I’m putting the long-term health of thousands of athletes, staffers, and their families at risk. I don’t have to try to convince people that this is what the kids want, and therefore must be done, even though there is no proof that athletic departments have ever acted on those motivations in the past.

I don’t have to push the hideous belief that players have the best chance to survive the pandemic by enduring the risk of playing college sports so they can have room and board and access to healthcare. I’m not pretending that the effort and cost of hoarding and deploying precious medical resources is worth it because a school made a breakthrough conference win, or because we miss texting coaches on game day.

I’m disgusted to think that some people see a feel-good story when a university-sponsored team of student-athletes moves everything and everyone to a different state to preserve the sanctity of the New Mexico Lobos football program, which has won eight games in the previous three seasons.

And to just hop back to basketball for a second, we’re really gonna risk it all to play CCSU and UHart right now?

I can’t confirm that this is true, but based on their actions it doesn’t look like the athletic directors or head coaches give a crap if a player dies from the virus, as long as it isn’t one of theirs so they don’t have to deal with the backlash. It appears the main reason they don’t want their players catching the disease is because they’d have to shut down team activities for two weeks, and that might hurt prep for a big game, or cancel one that they need for their postseason resume.

If they truly cared about the lives and health of their players, they would advocate for them fiercely in public, instead of anonymously through the media. What even is the point of sharing these thoughts off the record?

I understand the context. Many or most D1 football and basketball players are aspiring pros, and they’re being robbed of their chance to improve their odds. For those who aren’t looking to play at the next level, there may be seniors losing their final year of organized sports. There are many hardworking people in catering, facilities, transportation, and other services these teams need, and many are likely dependent on the paycheck coming from it. Small businesses in college towns are struggling.

But it is not the responsibility of 20-year-olds to travel around the country playing tackle football and indoor basketball in order to support those people.

It would be great if the people in charge, the ones who have already made gobs of money and stand to make gobs of money every year for the rest of their lives, whether they stay in sports or not, agree that they can withstand a temporary loss. Or if institutions tapped into their massive endowments to help the most vulnerable people in their midst. If not now, then when?

Ultimately, this is a blog about UConn sports. We will cover the games, and we are excited to have the privilege of doing so. But these issues, and many more, will be sitting with us throughout the season. This year, as UConn participates in hockey and hoops despite making the admirable decision to sit out football, we’ll be doing our best to center the human experiences of the players and workers involved in making all of this possible.

I ask that you help keep us accountable for doing so across the season.