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B1G Kabuki

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A Spectacle for the Pandemic Age

First, my thoughts on having a football season this fall:

I am bearish on having a college football season. The virus doesn’t care if we are entertained. It doesn’t care if budgets are busted for lack of revenue. Football involves people leaning on each other, sweating and spitting on each other, and occasionally bleeding on each other. It is a petri dish. Colliding with people is the whole idea – the apotheosis of “close proximity.” How comfortable are we with disease and death? All so we can bicker about punting inside the 40? Who knows, maybe we can find a way to make it work – I simply see no way how. I really want football. I don’t think we need it at this cost.

- Dead Read, 6/20/20

I have been consistent on this - in comments, in articles, and on the “writers’” Slack - to the point that I have grown tired of saying it, and others have grown tired of hearing it.

You get the point.

Every year, when the calendar turns to August I think of Japan. As my mind wandered after rereading something I have read a dozen times, I wondered what lessons Japanese culture could teach us about this football season mess. Naturally. As you do.

Kabuki

Kabuki theater is a uniquely Japanese form. The word is based on the characters ka (song), bu (dance), and ki (skill). It is a highly stylized, with most of its productions not serving as literature, but as vehicles for the performers to showcase their skills in a highly visual and vocal performance. I am not a cultural expert on Asia, but I have seen a performance. It was beautiful. I do not claim to have understood the story, but it was beautifully staged and performed. The beauty of the delivery was the point.

Song. Dance. Skill. Stylized. Visual. Vocal. Performative. This thing writes itself.

So what is the B1G doing?

The plan is to slow walk what seems like an inevitable decision to soften the blow.

A survey of data points:

  • Division II and III Football postponed.
  • Ivy League and other FCS conferences have postponed football.
  • Prominent HBCU schools have postponed or canceled.
  • MAC postpones football.
  • UConn cancels football for the year.
  • On a local level (for me), Omaha Public Schools delay fall sports.

You don’t have to be a meteorologist to see which way the wind is blowing. To mix my metaphor, even a conference commissioner cannot hold back the tides.

That, or they really want to make the wrong decision.

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Thus, the plays often present conflicts involving such religious ideas as the transitory nature of the world (from Buddhism), and the importance of duty (from Confucianism), as well as more general moral sentiments. Tragedy occurs when morality conflicts with human passions.

In any event, those who REALLY want football cannot say the conference didn’t try.

Traditionally, a constant interplay between the actors and the spectators took place in the Kabuki theatre. The actors frequently interrupted the play to address the crowd, and the latter responded with appropriate praise or clapped their hands according to a prescribed formula. They also could call out the names of their favourite actors in the course of the performance.

Again, the plot is not as important as the performance.

So today we get this:

8/8/2020 11:30:00 AM

Big Ten Statement

The Big Ten Conference announced today, based on the advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, that, until further notice, all institutions will remain in the first two days of the acclimatization period in football (i.e., helmets shall be the only piece of protective equipment student-athletes may wear) as we continue to transition prudently through preseason practice. All other fall sports will continue to work locally with team physicians and athletic trainers to adjust practices to the appropriate level of activity, as necessary, based on current medical protocols.

...

We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all. As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.

As it stands now, football teams are stuck in “first days of practice” mode. In short, tacklers are not tackling, blockers are not blocking, and coverage players are not covering (too closely). You do not prepare for actual competition this way. Yet, large groups of young people are concentrated in practices in potentially unsafe conditions. The hazard persists, even as any payoff recedes.

I am sorry, but this is absurd.

Is there any question about how this performance ends?

Kabuki and football, that’s what the Big Ten does.