For those who don’t remember, we were told College Football Playoff games were never going to happen, let alone reach the conclusion safely without any deaths. But after months of fearmongering from sports media about how players would die if games were played, we can all exhale. We made it to the finish line. The war to save football is over. And, in this case, the culture of college football won and beat the doomsayers.
January 1st marks the beginning of the end of the CFB calendar year. The first round of College Football Playoff games will ensue between #1 Alabama vs. #4 Notre Dame, with #2 Clemson taking on #3 Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
But before we get to enjoy all of that, it’s worthwhile to take stock of the various winners and losers of the 2020 CFB season.
The SEC, ACC, and Big 12 Conferences — For Greg Sankey and his member institutions, it’s hard not to view 69 out of 71 possible SEC games played this season as a remarkable success story. While there were many postponements and hiccups along the way, we ended the season with only two canceled games — a 97 percent success rate. Yes, that figure isn’t quite as high as the COVID-19 survival rate among college students, but it’s still pretty darn good. It’s also worth noting is that every game had fans in attendance and the conference still had zero significant COVID-19 related issues.
The Group of 5 — The MAC, AAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, and the Mountain West Conference were all nationally irrelevant at the beginning of the CFB season. As we fast forward 16 weeks, however, suddenly Liberty University head coach Hugh Freeze is the hottest coaching candidate on the market and rewarded with a very lucrative contract extension to stay at Liberty. Coastal Carolina, BYU, and Cincinnati ranked in the top 25 for the entirety of the season.
Ohio State — There arguably isn’t a bigger winner in all of sports this season than Ohio State. The new Big 10 mantra should be “Welcome to the Big 10, where you work less and get paid more.” Essentially, that’s what the CFB playoff told Ohio State all season long.
While other playoff contenders like Clemson, Alabama, and Notre Dame had to play 10 or more games, Ohio State only had to play six. Now, in defense of Ohio State, it wasn’t exactly their fault games were canceled. Yet decisions have consequences. Ultimately, the Big 10 didn’t “trust the science” and screwed up their own CFB season, and now we’re all stuck trusting their math.
College Basketball Players — This group of winners may catch you by surprise but let me explain. Basketball season has started and oddly enough we haven’t heard hardly a peep about canceling the season. Why is that? Surely for a sport that is played indoors, during wintertime (peak COVID-19 outbreak season), and not in a bubble environment, we would have heard from the death predictors by now. But no, total silence. Can’t wait for #MaskMadness this March!
Sports Media — As we watch the CFB playoffs unfold in 2021, it’s a great time to stop and reflect on how the sports media doomsday predictors told us we would never make it to the finish line of the CFB season. They pedaled nonsense like how the south won’t give up on college football even if it kills us.
My personal favorite is this CBS Sports column written by Dennis Dodd, predicting 3-7 deaths if a CFB season were played. Indeed, we must not quickly forget that we had irresponsibly members in the sports media world pedaling death predictions before the season began. Most egregiously, to my knowledge, we haven’t seen anyone ask for forgiveness or suffer any tangible consequences for offering up such wild fearmongering predictions.
The Pac-12, Mountain West, and MAC Conference — It’s hard to fail as epically hard at something the way the PAC 12 and Commissioner Larry Scott mangled their football season. Instead of making their own prudent decision based on their unique particular circumstances, they followed the lead of the Big Ten and didn’t even play until November.
The utter joke that was their Pac-12 “Championship Game” featured a team that went 3-2 in Oregon (a replacement for Washington) vs 5-0 USC. So, it’s more than appropriate to slap a big ‘ol, fat juicy asterisks next to Oregon’s championship title, because no one, including those players and coaches, believed they were worthy of holding that trophy.
Athletic Departments and the Wallets of Sports Team Owners — COVID-19 absolutely butchered the budgets and bottom lines of college sports departments and professional sports leagues across the country. Reminder: there’s no PPP loan or small business federal government bailout for this type of thing. The finical implosion forced many universities to cut sports and utterly upended the lives of many. Since March, 352 NCAA sports programs have been cut, with 11 cuts by Stanford alone.
Minor league baseball is another prime example of the disastrous impact of the economic shutdown. With the first summer in 120 years without Minor League play, we still don’t know the final awful toll caused the effects and long-term financial damage caused by banning fans from ballparks this season.
The loss of the season has been enough to garner attention from Congress, however, with relief efforts proposed in an attempt to save small-town teams from closure. It’s just another stark reminder one can’t simply shut down the world’s greatest economy for months on end and expect there won’t be any repercussions.
While there’s no doubt I’ll definitely enjoy every minute of the 2020 CFB playoffs, here’s to getting back to normal, experiencing sidelines with cheerleaders, tailgates with fans, and student sections going crazy in 2021.
Hutson Mason is a former University of Georgia quarterback and current SEC Network analyst. He’s also a radio host with 680 The Fan in Atlanta.