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A fall with no college football? That would mean…

If the coronavirus epidemic remains in place in August, there are two bitter realities higher education would have to accept.

The first — and the more important one — is a fall term that would begin by remote instruction. Whether it remained that way through December would be dependent upon the state of the pandemic. (The only other option: the reported Boston University model, but that would mean no classes at all.)

The second is the potential for no college football. Before I go any further, a message to the people who think the game will be played with no people in the stands:


Any athletic director who allows football players (and any other player in any other fall sport) to practice and play should be fired and then hauled off to jail for gross negligence. The potential for coronavirus to spread from human to human has been well documented; there’s no way football teams can operate knowing that.

Consider what Ohio State’s athletic director recently said,

“If we don’t have fans in the stands, then we determined it’s not safe for them. So why would it be safe for the players?”


So, let’s stop the nonsense that there would be college games without fans. That ain’t happening.

The fallout from a fall without college football would be the equivalent of King Kong ravaging a major metropolitan city. We’re already seeing financial decisions brought about by the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments and the entire spring sports schedule. Those decisions will become more draconian if there’s no football.

By one estimate, a canceled season would take $4.1-billion out of the coffers of athletic departments across the country. For sake of this blog post, let’s accept that figure as accurate.

Take away the income from football and you take away a whole lot. Football and men’s basketball pay the freight at big and small schools. As Forbes noted,

(N)o matter whether you’re Ohio University or Penn State, football and men’s basketball are generally the only profit producing sports. When profits from those two sports aren’t large enough to cover the other sports and other expenses like recruiting and coaches salaries, schools generally have to rely upon student fees and other types of direct institutional support.

But make no mistake, football is the real moneymaker among those two sports.

Athletic department leaders already showing signs of deep concern.

-Coaches at Oregon State University have agreed to pay cuts; other coaches at other schools have done the same. (Side note to my fellow higher education faculty: Similar pay cuts already are affecting our colleagues, and all of us are certain to be asked to accept the same if coronavirus continues to upend normal operations into the fall.)

-The men’s soccer program at the University of Cincinnati was abruptly killed off a couple days ago.

-Meanwhile, five “mid-major” conferences have petitioned the NCAA for a relaxing of the current Division I requirements.

As ESPN notes, the five conference commissioners’ letter to the NCAA included this statement:

“As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic turmoil has resulted in the direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression,” the commissioners wrote.

Put another way, college sports as a whole would be in deep financial doo-doo if there’s a major disruption to college football. Many athletics departments operate in the red, and absent college football the financial blood bath would be ugly.

That ugliness could include the following:

-Many schools chopping programs such as baseball, wrestling, soccer, rifle and the often called “Olympic sports”

-Schools that offer football would have the additional responsibility of remaining in compliance with Title IX; this is certain to mean more men’s than women’s sports would be eliminated

-Reducing athletic scholarships either across the board (i.e. football) or in percentage terms for sports that don’t offer full rides (i.e. baseball)

-Schedule adjustments with the largest schools being unable (or unwilling) to play smaller schools.

You also can add to this list that student fees, used by many institutions to fund their sports programs, might be earmarked to fund more of the academic mission; this decision would remove even more money from athletic department budgets.

It’s not inconceivable to say that the largest schools (those in the so-called Power 5 conferences) opt to go it alone when the new television contracts are negotiated.

If this were to take place, imagine an NCAA men’s basketball tournament in which the “best” teams get in, but they all come from the major conferences. If you’re a graduate of Gonzaga, UNLV, Georgetown or other “mid-major” schools that at one time or another dominated college basketball, then you’d never see such success again in “March Madness.” Your school would be relegated to a kind-of “Oh, yes, your school matters, too” tournament. But the big dogs would no longer feast with you.

We know coronavirus is putting demands on presidents and chancellors to determine how their schools’ academic programs will be delivered in the summer and the fall. And no matter how much you or I love sports, those decisions are the most important. Their decisions about what to do with their sports programs will be under a white-hot spotlight if football doesn’t happen in 2020.

And football might not happen this fall.

Cancel the college football season? That’ll cost you $4-billion

USA Today reports that cancelling the college football season will ravage athletics departments.

That’s more than 60% of these schools’ combined total annual operating revenues, based on amounts reported for the 2019 fiscal year. These estimates do not take into account potential impacts on student fees or money from schools’ general funds, both of which likely would be reduced if students cannot return to campus as usual for the fall semester. Even within the Power Five, there are schools that receive significant amounts from those sources.

THE GUARDIAN: Intermittent social distancing possible for two years

According to the Guardian,

Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard and co-author of the study, said: “Infections spread when there are two things: infected people and susceptible people. Unless there is some enormously larger amount of herd immunity than we’re aware of … the majority of the population is still susceptible.

“Predicting the end of the pandemic in the summer [of 2020] is not consistent with what we know about the spread of infections.”

(ICYMI) Easing faculty members’ minds as fears of lengthy closed campuses fester

The question is being asked all across the country: Will coronavirus again require all of us to teach off-campus in the fall? Or, in an even more unsettling option, will coronavirus close my college or university for the fall?

The answer: No one knows.

America’s 50 states’ governors and the president of the United States don’t agree on much, but they absolutely agree that the sooner America can put coronavirus to rest, the better. But absent a proven vaccine, which if identified and available within 12 to 18 months would be breathtakingly fast, to combat the virus, America can’t fully return to normal.

Therefore, higher education can’t return to normal. Or at least it can’t without recognizing the need to abruptly scale back to what we’re experiencing right now.

Yes, efforts will be made at some point to gradually re-open the country, and all of us in higher education would be thrilled if our institutions are open in time for a typical fall term.

Reality tells us that might not be possible.

I recently wrote about the need for honest and transparent leadership within higher education during the coronavirus crisis. Today, I want us to have an honest and transparent discussion about what another semester using modern technologies would mean for us.

I hope a calm and sober conversation helps you reflect on what you can do, and can be, if higher education continues to be disrupted in the fall.

First, you’re not an online instructor. Rather, you’re required to teach remotely because of coronavirus. This isn’t a creative play on words. Quality online education has a specific set of rather regimented requirements regarding pedagogy; anyone who has taught an online class will tell you that regimentation ensures a solid learning experience for our students.

This regimentation isn’t in play when you’re teaching remotely. Rather you’re taking your on ground class and moving it into a different modality. So, yes, this summer if your university offers you the chance to be trained in online teaching, take advantage of it. That training would allow you to teach online courses in the future. But completing such training won’t be required of you then, just as it isn’t now, if your on ground class needs to be transitioned to a different teaching mode.

Second, you won’t re-create the on ground classroom in a remote delivery modality, and that’s true even if you’re teaching synchronously. This builds on the first point. Sure, you ’ll take as much of the on ground course with you as you can, but you can’t take it all. As one example, a lengthy lecture in a classroom works, but a lengthy lecture delivered via video conference doesn’t. You can’t play off the faces, the body language, the inquisitive looks of the students who are in that classroom with you when you’re looking into a web camera. Their curiosity, even their boredom, sustains you. (Side note: More than one faculty member has grown frustrated after watching the recordings of their lectures, noting how often they use words such as “um” or seem to pause in unnatural places. Moment of truth: We do that in our classrooms, and no one notices. Don’t be hard on yourself right now, or ever. Be you!)

What are some of the best options for remote instruction? You will find a host of ideas and resources from various centers of teaching and learning. I’ve included five here: Boston College, Elon, Robert Morris, USC and Vanderbilt.

Third, your stress level often is significantly lower than your students’. Depending upon your particular family situation, you might have elderly parents, a spouse or young children also staying at home with you at the moment. And this living arrangement is likely to remain in place for the duration of the pandemic.

Each of those people require your attention to a greater or lesser degree every day. Right now, it might seem hard to find the space and the calm you need to work and to take care of yourself. But our students are more likely to be in more challenging family situations, and they also might lack the top-level Internet access they had on campus. If we’ve been following the national conversation in higher education over the past month, then we’re well aware of the messages our colleagues are receiving from students: They’ve lost family members to coronavirus; they don’t own a laptop to do their work; their bedroom is no longer theirs; food scarcity is evident. Be a calming and reassuring force for them; far too many of them need a rock of support right now, and they’ll continue to need that over the summer and into the fall.

Fourth, you’re a partner with thousands of colleagues across the country (and the world). The ideas they’ve shared on at least two Facebook groups, Pandemic Pedagogy and Higher Ed Learning Collective, provide opportunities for you to consider what you might incorporate into your remote class.

The challenges our peers face look very much the same from east to west, north to south: making technology do what we want it to do; creating assignments that are practical in this unsettled environment; addressing our students’ mental health concerns; coping with our own anxieties; identifying cheating; determining how flexible to be with grading; offering advice to each other, and more. In much the same way we want our students to know they’re not alone on some island as they complete this term, we need to know that we’re not alone as we provide instruction.

Beginning today and continuing right up to that moment when your president or chancellor announces how teaching will be delivered on your campus in the fall semester, you want to prepare the content for your classes, shut out the distraction, focus on taking care of you and your family, embrace the weird that comes with staying at home and find the opportunities that come from crisis.

A friend who teaches at Ohio University wrote the other day that he’s laying out three TENTATIVE (his capitalization) syllabi for the fall. The first: teaching an entire semester on ground. The second: teaching part of the semester on ground and part of the semester remotely. The third: teaching remotely for the entire term.

He realizes, however frustrated he might be, that he has no idea which syllabus he’ll use. But he’s embracing the unknown with the typical good cheer that defines him.

All of us need to do the same.

(ICYMI) Boston-area universities planning for uncertain fall

According to the Boston Globe, the area’s major universities acknowledge that a normal fall semester might not be possible.

“If the virus is still around and we don’t have testing capacity, reopening becomes very, very difficult,” said Brown president Christina Paxson. “You always hope for the best and plan for the worst. It’s irresponsible not to plan for it.”

While September is still months away, universities with thousands of students, hundreds of faculty, and tens of millions of dollars in contracts have to get organized soon. In the coming weeks, they will have to start making budget plans and informing students and staff who have to make their own decisions about travel, renting apartments, and other logistics.