College football’s resourceful rehuddle
If the 2020 season is teaching anything, it’s that keeping things flexible isn’t as impossible as previously thought.
College football in America often comes with surprises, but the saga of Rice University’s season symbolizes just how unprecedented this year has been. The team was unable to play seven of the 12 games on its schedule because of pandemic concerns. Yet the Owls, 1-2 at the time, pulled a remarkable upset by beating the then-undefeated and nationally ranked Marshall Thundering Herd in a dominating shutout recently.
The 2020 season has become a time to expect the unexpected.
And against a backdrop of sobering statistics related to the pandemic, these games have offered a welcome expression of vitality and exuberance.
Teams that normally schedule opponents years in advance suddenly were looking around from week to week to find a quick game with a team not sidelined by COVID-19 precautions.
In one game Brigham Young University made a quick deal to play Coastal Carolina and in just a few days flew nearly cross-country to play. The two undefeated schools put on quite a show, with Coastal prevailing by a whisker.
A quick glance at the top contenders for the national championship might suggest business as usual: Perennial powers Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Ohio State top the list. But even these teams have had to endure unusual hardships.
Ohio State recently played Michigan State with its head coach and 23 of its players unavailable – including several starters – mostly due to pandemic-related causes. (It still won 52-12.) Other traditional powers, such as Penn State, Michigan, and Louisiana State University (the defending national champion) have suddenly fallen on hard times, struggling to win a handful of games among them.
On the flip side are the amazing upstarts, who are treating their fans to unexpected successes. Teams like the Iowa State Cyclones and the Indiana Hoosiers have risen from their accustomed place at the bottom of the standings to post sparkling records.
Much of the chaos, of course, can be attributed to the pandemic. Games are canceled or postponed when positive tests pop up on a team. But even before the season more than 150 players had decided to opt out of playing this year. Many more have joined them as the fall has progressed.
Amid all this disruption, bright spots emerged. One has been the fun of watching matchups between teams that have never played each other. One lesson may be to schedule fewer games years in advance and add more spontaneous pairings.
If 2020 is teaching anything in sports, it’s that keeping things flexible isn’t as impossible as previously thought.
Another lesson is that playing through the pandemic – with all due precautions – seems to have brought players and coaches even closer. At Indiana, for example, the upstart team’s slogan is “LEO” – love each other.
The love runs from coach to players too. At Iowa State, head coach Matt Campbell told The Washington Post, “The neat thing about this group of seniors that we have is all 16 have become the best version of themselves they can be.”
That’s one good effect on athletes in any season – not just the surreal one of 2020.