Hello, loyal Off Tackle Empire readers. Thanks for joining us for the kicking off of our Big Ten 2020 Previews. Because of the uncertainty of COVID-19 we waited weeks longer than normal to start, so our weeks are doubled up. As per freaking usual, because Rutgers finished last in the Big Ten, OTE’s Rutgers writers (myself and Coray) drew the team fandom short straw in having to open B1G 2020, but our Maryland writers get to suffer along with us as this marks the beginning of Rutgers/Maryland week. I think each week is gonna be based on “rivals”? I don’t know, whatever.
Anyway, I asked on Twitter what Rutgers fans were interested in hearing about preview-wise. People wanted a glimpse into the non-Schiano coaches since Schiano has been talked about so much already. Others wanted to know if any of our transfers make an immediate impact. Then of course there was the general “will we be disappointed?” question. We’re eager to tackle those, and more, this week, but I decided to get one very important thing out of the way first to be prudent, and that is we really might not have a 2020 College Football season. In stating that out loud, the question then becomes, for Rutgers in Rutgers week, how will that benefit or harm Rutgers Football if that happens?
And so begins B1G 2020 Previews, with a pessioptimistic article about how college football probably won’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and why, I think, this could actually be very good for Rutgers specifically.
Why do I think College Football won’t happen?
Well, to go down a list. USC, my current institution, (Fight On, just kidding) told students to NOT stay on campus, a reversal from the previous decision to welcome undergraduate students back, if they don’t have to and that a majority of classes will be online. With this, how can USC possibly justify asking athletes to stay on campus? From what my insider info can tell me, the only in person classes are going to be heavy lab-based and performing arts classes. Football isn’t a class, so there is no reason for football players to be excluded from USC’s own opening rule. Kansas just suspended voluntary football practice after 16 players and staff members tested positive. Arizona, Boise State, Houston and Kansas State have also suspended operations and LSU has had 30 players test positive. At Clemson, the divinity of Dabo could not spare the 37 players which tested positive for Coronavirus, and the governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, said he will cancel college football himself if cases in South Carolina keep rising. All it takes is one Power 5 team to say, “screw this we’re not playing,” for the dominoes to fall. And I have a feeling that this announcement is coming sooner than later if these cases keep rising nationally the way they have. Additionally, some smaller, less rich colleges have already cancelled their college football seasons simply because they can’t afford to apply the “protective” measures in the first place. A computer scientist at our very own Big Ten University of Illinois told CBS Sports that IF the season happens, he predicted 30-50% out of the 13,000 college football players could get it and that statistically there will be hospitalizations and likely a few deaths if this happens.
Edit** Rutgers itself just announced today that the fall semester will be mostly remote. So Rutgers has the same problem that USC has with how can it justify having athletes stay on campus? Though, currently, athletics decisions will be made by the state and Big Ten Conference.
Now I know in reading the previous paragraphs there were two types of people. There are the people who see this as a serious problem and would agree with not having the 2020 season and potentially pushing it back to Spring 2021 (if COVID-19 is genuinely handled with a treatment or vaccine by that point). Then, there are the people lamenting that these players are, “young and healthy, they’re unlikely to die, so who cares? Let them play! I want football.” All I’ll say to the latter group is, if they’re still reading, 1) the coaches are not all young and healthy, 2) this is a novel virus that we still don’t know much about, but 3) we’re starting to really understand the long term damage that COVID-19 can have on people who survive it. 4) Death isn’t the only COVID-19 problem to worry about, it’s precisely that long term chronic damage that many people are experiencing after they “recover,” even people who didn’t have extreme cases. These chronic problems can include issues with the lungs, heart, kidneys, and other organs, and even neurological problems. I’ve got the handy dandy link for learning about all of that stuff right here.
I, personally, don’t want that risk for my team’s student athletes, as it sounds like they may not be much of an athlete anymore, at least for a few months, and especially not via university enabled virus exposure through fall 2020 season preparation.
So in setting the stage...
Why could this benefit Rutgers Football?
Firstly, I’d like to express that Coronavirus and the deaths that it has caused is a national tragedy and this is by no means making light of the death and sadness brought about by it. Coronavirus is a bad thing that is happening, but like anything it has cascading/ripple effects, and some of those effects may simply be positive for certain things.
For those who are looking to the future, recruiting has still been happening in accordance with the NCAA’s modified rules due to C=coronavirus. Coaches are forced to essentially tele-recruit, leading prospective players through virtual tours and having Zoom meetings. This is creating an interesting pheonomenon, where existing local relationships are having a strong impact on recruiting. Many programs, though not all, are experiencing a lot of local commits. USC, finally, is once again landing talented Southern California commits. The Trojans have a top 10, 17 member class made, and 11 are from SoCal. Out of the North Carolina Tar Heel’s 17 commits, a whopping 14 are from North Carolina and they have the Number 2 class in the ACC. Last year, Rutgers had the number 66 class in the nation, and currently has a top 25 2021 class made up of 21 players. 10 of them are from New Jersey, 2 from Pennsylvania, 1 from Maryland. A lot of players have committed locally all around the country directly citing Coronavirus limiting their ability to travel to out-of-state programs, so they’re committing to where they can see, where their high school coach might have a relationship with the local CFB coach, and what they might know and be familiar with already. Schiano was certainly good at getting that NJ talent the last time he was here, but COVID is adding another later. Also, in addition to players being limited in travel, you have to wonder if coronavirus itself is making more players genuinely consider staying home because they want to be closer to their families. I know many people, including myself, have had a “what matters?” reckoning because of this virus.
Now regarding the potential delay of the 2020 season itself, and this is a key factor in benefit to Rutgers, by not having a college football season by the end of the year, the window to scare away the class of 2021 is small. Now, I know this sounds scammy, but Rutgers has always suffered with the negative feedback system of temporarily getting good recruits who could change the program for the better, but then the season starts, the season that shows how much help we need, we start losing, and many of these top recruits get cold feet and are easily convinced to go somewhere else, to a winning and safer program. However, this is the exact opposite of what Rutgers needs to succeed. Just ONE year we need to keep most of those good recruits, not have them get scared away and that’ll be it. A GOOD positive feedback loop will commence. Rutgers starts winning with this talent, good recruits stay committed, more winning happens, more good recruits stay committed and there we are. This is obvious, we all know this, the best programs have been in this positive feedback loop for years, but Rutgers hasn’t been able to make this happen since Schiano’s middle to late years. Imagine if Rutgers kept Saquon Barkley or Jonathan Taylor. It doesn’t take many top playmakers to turn a program like ours around. So this recruting class, combined with this twisted perfect storm of pro recruiter Schiano returning to Rutgers, a virus that may not let us have a 2020 football season where its timing won’t scare recruits away, and the added layer of New Jersey talent potentially wanting to stay close to home because of said virus... well it might just be the weirdest damn way that Rutgers Football gets good.
Of course my big assumption here is that the NCAA doesn’t drastically push back signing dates to coincide with a pushed back college football season. A lot of these recruits rely on gameday visits. Still though, the timing will be drastically different and I still think it’ll help keep the class.
Most importantly, no college football in 2020 hopefully means there is the choice of safety for all of our student athletes, staff, and coaches. Now, I can’t confidently say that with no college football, our players and coaches will still be safe. There are individual elements involved there. I went to the grocery store the other day for the first time in a while and I saw... let’s call it a “diversity” of human behaviors in spite of our ongoing pandemic. However, personal decisions of what one does in their non-university involved time are up to an individual. I simply think it would be very crappy for people to get COVID-19 beCAUSE of their university and the NCAA trying to force college football happen. It goes from individual responsibilty and care like for those of us who have the choice to stay home, to a forced collective with no choice in your COVID exposure, only trust of your program. I’m not saying these programs don’t have good intentions and aren’t trying to keep their players and staff safe, but... the COVID cases that many teams already have show that this isn’t that simple. And, nationally, things are getting worse not better. Also, football is a contact sport, how can anyone justify a team that has better protected its students, playing a team that hasn’t? The protective measures aren’t uniform, so this is inevitable.
And if there somehow is a college football season, there will be inevitable unnevenness of it all due to different state situations, so maybe bad seasons for bad teams, won’t be considered the same to recruits as it has past? .... (haha, yeah right).
So there you have it. What a way to open up B1G 2020 am I right? For this week, Rutgers articles will drop in the mornings, Maryland in the afternoon.