Whether it's enforced normality or magical thinking, the Big Ten will play football.
On August 11, not much more than a month ago, the Big Ten Conference—canceled its football schedule for 2020 citing the unchecked spread of Covid-19.
Now that decision has been reversed, and bowing to pressure from coaches, parents, alumni, and the president, the Big Ten will begin playing football, though not until October 23.
It's an odd decision in many ways. In August when it was made, the disease had plateaued albeit at a fairly high level. Still, there seemed to be some hope that the increase in mask-wearing and testing was having a salutary effect, and even an outside belief that the anticipated autumn pandemic surge would not materialize. Masking up has helped, and it may serve to blunt the autumn onslaught, but there are early indications that cases are rising anew, as are hospitalizations and deaths.
In states that house Big Ten teams, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are among 15 states where deaths are increasing. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, new cases are rising. In Iowa cases are high but dropping. They are low and steady in Indiana, Illinois, and Maryland. What they will be 37 days from now is anybody's guess, but in a time when the average guy in a MAGA hat is convinced that he has a better grasp on communicative diseases than the trained epidemiologist, predictions based on logic or facts are useless. And when the president begins every new piece of nonscientific claptrap with "People are saying..." then trying to convince anyone to act rationally is like asking a two-year-old to consider others' feelings. You can ask, but why bother?
Integral to the so-called feasibility of football is the seemingly empirical truth that Covid-19 takes a less serious toll on young people, but not even scientists understand fully the complex pathology of the virus. In a new study of 26 young, healthy college athletes who tested positive for coronavirus—four of them—all asymptomatic—later showed signs of inflammation in their heart muscles. It's impossible to know right now if the coronavirus caused the glitches or if they predated the illness, but that's the point: making decisions based on incomplete data is risky, and playing football is one of those risks.
The expression "return to normalcy" didn't exist before 1920 when Warren G. Harding, running for president, used it to convince Americans that the war and the Spanish flu were in the past and that his leadership would rescue America. Normalcy was not a word, and Harding was belittled for using it. But it's a word now, and it's on our lips every day. Since we have the word, what's the best guess on achieving it? Summer, 2021.
Yes, it's a ways off, but if we want to be around to witness and enjoy it, we may have to forgo things like football and bar-hopping and crowding together for political rallies. People who can't will be the spreaders, and then that elusive normalcy—even next summer—will be a pipedream.