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College football’s darkest days still ahead

Individually, nobody died from the Big Ten’s decision Tuesday to cancel its upcoming fall sports schedule, namely the football season, due to the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, it sure feels like everyone involved with the game — players, coaches, support staff, fans and, yes, even the media — can use a dose of sympathy right about now.

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour summed it up well, saying she’s “heartbroken: but supports the Big Ten’s difficult verdict.

It started Saturday with the Big Ten’s announcement that it was suspending contact drills until further notice and continued Sunday with word the presidents were meeting and that the season would likely be canceled or postponed.

After a reported 12-2 vote in favor of cancellation (Nebraska and Iowa were the alleged dissenters) on Monday morning and some predictable pushback from coaches, including Penn State’s James Franklin, the decision was finalized Tuesday.

It’s added up to the darkest days college football has known.

Just as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf raised expectations for high school athletes and then lobbed a grenade Thursday in a by-the-way moment at the end of a press briefing to recommend suspension of sports until Jan. 1, the Big Ten released its schedule just a week ago, thus providing some needed hope to all involved, only to reverse field quicker than Crazylegs Hirsch.

The Pac-12 followed suit two hours later while the nation’s three other Power-5 conferences, the SEC, ACC and Big 12, are on course — for now.

Where’s the NCAA in all of this? Where it always is during tough times — with its hands in its pockets, headless and pointing to the schools and conferences to work it out. It either overreaches or underreaches but never seems to get it right.

This is a moment in time that could change the college sports landscape forever.

Can and should a spring season be cobbled together?

Could this spur a NCAA commissioner for college football?

Will players be organized enough to form the union many of them have sought?

Can inevitable scars between administrations and their coaching staffs — who clearly support playing — be repaired?

Will this all trigger more movement to other conferences?

Nebraska, before and after the vote, openly campaigned to play, even elsewhere, this season. The Cornhuskers are already located in Big 12 territory. Will they be poached? And since they’ve been maybe the nation’s most underachieving big-name program for the last 20 years, will the Big Ten even care?

Crisis brings out the best and worst in leadership. Certainly it doesn’t speak well that those who supposedly govern college football — the NCAA and the Power-5 commissioners — waited this long to let it all blow up in everybody’s face.

On the other hand, the coronavirus has created awful circumstances to every border and to which no one has the answer, even if they think they do.

Had the NCAA or any conference announced on June 1 that the football season was canceled, we all would have screamed from the roof tops to wait longer and give it a chance.

So they did.

And now the word that could have been used on June 1 is being used today: Condolences.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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