Sometimes a Fantasy Is All You Need: The NCAA Tackles COVID-19

A recent article in The New York Times illustrates the magical thinking that prevails in the NCAA, and indeed, throughout much of higher education, on the topic of the coronavirus:

When Kansas State opened the doors to its athletic facilities, welcoming its football players back to campus starting the first weekend in June, administrators breathed a sigh of relief once the first batch of coronavirus tests came back.

The first wave of athletes spent a week in quarantine before voluntary workouts, as all players were required to do, and the scorecard was pristine: 90 tests, zero positives.

Another six players straggled in a day or two later and were swabbed. Again, no positives.

Then by June 12, the final group of 24 arrivals–largely freshmen–was tested. But just a week later, Kansas State shut down its workouts until at least mid-July after two positive cases in that final group morphed into four and then eight before leaping to 14, as nearly half the team needed to be checked again.

With its announcements on Saturday, Kansas State became the first school from a Power 5 conference to shut down football activities. Two other Football Bowl Subdivision schools did the same after outbreaks among their athletes, with Houston making the decision on June 12 and Boise State on Monday.

Not that the preceding episode taught any of the relevant decision-makers any important lessons:

“I think everyone realizes the plan is written in pencil,” said Heather Lyke, the athletic director at Pittsburgh and a member of the NCAA Division I Council, which last week approved guidelines for how teams can practice leading into the season.

She added: “It’s frankly hard to predict where things are going to go. The point where the council approved the calendar, things were in a reasonable state.”

Are these people for real? I’m sure their salaries are.

If “it’s frankly hard to predict the way things are going to go,” how is it possible to plan at all? And excuse me–what fucking plan? The plan of proceeding as though the riskiest conceivable activities were perfectly safe? That’s not a plan. It’s a gamble with peoples’ lives.

And here I thought gambling was against NCAA rules.

NCAA athletes, coaches, and athletic staff members are prohibited from participating in ANY sports wagering activity, …

The NCAA defines a “wager” as a person agreeing to give up an item of value (entry fee, a shirt, a dinner) in exchange for the opportunity to receive another item of value, so even a bet over a meal or a t-shirt would be a violation of NCAA gambling legislation.

I guess strictly speaking you don’t violate the NCAA’s ban on gambling if you sacrifice someone’s health for some revenue. You just have to assume that the person’s health has a value of 0. Hell, if the NCAA couldn’t do that, it wouldn’t exist.

It’s funny what happens to people’s cognitive capacities whenever the epidemiology of the coronavirus collides with the imperatives of revenue-maximization. “The point where the council approved the calendar, things were in a reasonable state.” And when was that, exactly? Believe it or not, it was a mere ten days ago–on June 18th. In other words, the NCAA joins Donald Trump, Greg Abbott, and Ron DeSantis in the Make-Believe Championship where steadily rising infection rates entail a “reasonable state” to play football. Ten days later, reality catches up and bites them on the ass. If they can’t come up with a plan that survives ten days, what makes them think they can come up with one that survives a football season?

The outcome these idiots are lamenting was not nearly as hard to predict as they’d like to have you believe. It’s an open question whether they buy into their own con, or they were just too stupid to read the writing on the wall. Were they really dumb enough to think that their “protocols” would work in the real world? Or were they feigning uncertainty in order to see what they could get away with?

No certain way to tell, but the logic at work here, whatever their awareness of it, is a lot like the logic of the porn industry. People in the porn industry get tested every few weeks for the entire panel of STDs, and aren’t allowed to work if they test positive. It’s obvious why the industry implements such a procedure: STDs are bad for business. What’s both sick and sad is how many porn actors labor under the belief that the tests are there to keep them safe. But if the actors’ safety were the issue, condoms would be mandatory at every shoot. That they’re not tells you all you need to know.

To belabor the painfully obvious: an STD test isn’t a vaccination. You can’t avoid getting an STD because you’re being tested every two weeks for it. Come the day that you test positive for HIV or herpes, the industry will blame you for the disease they gave you, and discard you without a second thought. That doesn’t make the disease go away. It just makes you go away.

College football players are the porn stars of higher education, and they, too, have been deluded by the same exploitative logic that entraps “girls” in the porn industry. Protocols and tests, they’ve come to believe, will keep them safe from the coronavirus. And since practice is “voluntary” anyway, what could go wrong?

Well, slogans aside, practice isn’t quite voluntary. And what could go wrong is that the virus knows more about epidemiology than the average college football player and the average NCAA official. The virus is also completely indifferent to what happens when you stick half-educated kids in the hands of money-hungry mercenaries and amoral administrators. It blithely ignores the unfairness of the set-up and infects the most vulnerable parties anyway. You might say that it has a “field day” with society’s every moral default. It’s an interesting question whether the NCAA has lessons to learn in ruthlessness from the coronavirus, or the other way around.

Maybe now is the time to think about driving a stake through the NCAA vampire, chopping off its head, and sanitizing its crypt. Apart from a few big name schools, intercollegiate sports is one of the most cost-ineffective programs on any college campus. Money aside, it subverts higher education’s actual mission through its diversion of resources, now increasingly scarce, into pedagogically and vocationally useless activities. Every putative advantage it brings–exercise, teamwork, scholarships–can be brought about in a better way without it. And now, of course, its leadership, with the eager acquiescence of university administrators, is gaslighting us into thinking that contact sports can be played according to CDC guidelines in a safe and COVID-negative manner. Bullshit, in a word. If they don’t learn their lesson from this episode, they never will.

The real question is not whether there should be an NCAA football season. The real question is whether the NCAA should be pushed out of higher education or abolished altogether. What started with “March Madness” really ought to end with Summer Sanity–the summer when people finally figure out that beyond the hype, intercollegiate athletics is a net liability for higher education, second only to the coronavirus itself.

(Note: I changed the title of this post a day after posting it.)

One thought on “Sometimes a Fantasy Is All You Need: The NCAA Tackles COVID-19

  1. This is the intellectual caliber of the people prominent in the surreal world of professional and college sports, the “influencers” who set the trends, and whose opinions are regarded as worth taking seriously:

    Boomer Esiason’s salary? $1 million a year.

    Meanwhile, at Clemson:

    “For most college athletics departments to survive as we know them…”

    There seems to be more anguish out there over the potential demise of college athletics programs than there is over the potential demise of the colleges themselves.


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