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How Can The NFL Still Play When Colleges Won’t?

“Medical advisors convinced the Big Ten and Pac-12 to cancel football, which should have compelled the NFL to do the same — except a greedy league can bank even more media money from the college shutdowns.”

Jay Mariotti

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They actually think this is a game, don’t they? Not that it speaks well for their world purview, but the NFL and three remaining college power leagues see the coronavirus as some sort of extreme manhood test instead of what it really is: an unshakeable, unforgiving, invincible fiend with no interest in curtailing its all-points spiking mayhem.

“Next man up,’’ they shout, as they would on a sideline, dismissing the Big Ten and Pac-12 as hobbled weaklings in a survivalist gauntlet.

Truth be told, we need to jolt the remaining resisters from their delusional daze. The same medical concerns that prompted two-fifths of major college football to postpone seasons in a close-contact, saliva-fraught sport also apply to the arrogant holdouts. NFL players are just as vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID-19 throughout a season of potential outbreak tsunamis. So are players in the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences. Yet where are the announcements that they, too, are cancelling seasons in the name of health and humanity?

I’m still expecting the three college holdouts to fold at some point, based on the disclaimers they keep issuing. Take the Big 12, which still intends to start a season, with a caveat from the conference’s board leader, Texas Christian chancellor Victor Boschini: “If at any point our scientists and doctors conclude that our institutions cannot provide a safe and appropriate environment for our participants, we will change course.” But the NFL? Roger Goodell and the billionaire owners are smelling blood and seeing a sweet opportunity. Know the staggering advertising sums — well over $1 billion — that ESPN, Fox and CBS stand to lose from the college football shutdown?

The networks would shift much of that investment, or all, to the NFL.

So a $15 billion season, as even Dan Snyder can tabulate, becomes a $16.5 billion season.

Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys will induct Gil Brandt into Ring of Honor -  UPI.com

Damn right we’re playing, shrieks Jerry Jones, who vows to have spectators at every Cowboys game, too!

Stunning and heartbreaking as any football shutdown is for families, college communities and an increasingly battered American psyche, it’s non-sensical that the NFL and, for now, other college teams would even ponder carrying on. What leaves me alarmed — outraged, actually — is how those leagues conveniently ignore medical research gathered by the Big Ten and Pac-12, as if to say, “Our doctors are better, our kids are stronger, our administrators are smarter’’ — and, in the NFL’s case, “We’re just too big and rich to fail.’’

Virology doesn’t play favorites. As soon as prudent, sensible decisions were made to protect lives instead of quarterbacks, the other three college dominoes should have fallen, followed by the NFL, which remains obstinate as a regular season preposterously nears. There isn’t a responsible person in the industry who shouldn’t be alarmed about myocarditis, the heart condition that can prove fatal without care — and linked directly to even mild cases of COVID-19, including at least 10 infected players in Big Ten programs.

“There has been a lot of discussion about myocarditis,” said the first-year Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren, who was fearless in ignoring the lobbying of Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Day and other high-profile league figures. “Any time you’re talking about the heart of anyone — but especially a young person — you have to be concerned. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep our student-athletes safe. … As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.’’

Yet when powerful, wealthy people want something desperately enough, they don’t care much about heart muscle inflammation. They hunker down and demand football anyway. After all, Robert Kraft and Nick Saban need something to do on fall weekends, as do the millions of zealots who feed off football cults. This is an offshoot of what we’re dealing with so tragically in America: a cultural divide about masks and the virus, which many COVID-iots still think is a conspiracy, including Southern folks living in the very geographic regions of the holdout conferences. The Big 12 does much of its business in Texas, where case numbers and hospitalizations won’t allow the state to reopen. But shut down football, even when the conference could have won some much-needed intellectual cred?

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No chance. Hook ‘em, Horns. “Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the board’s collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being,” said Boschini, whose coach at TCU, Gary Patterson, recently dropped the n-word in a wretched attempt to make a teaching point to a Black player. The Big 12 still plans a start date of Sept. 26, same as the SEC, which at least allows monitoring time — unlike the ACC, which insists on starting … in three weeks? Go get ‘em, Dabo!

Our country is beyond repair. As long as we’re split on football, face coverings and how to proceed through a killer pandemic, the virus will continue its extended residency, leaving almighty sports as part-casualty, part-dangerous contradiction.

Without apologies, the NFL conducted a conference call with reporters in the very week of college football’s reckoning. The health message was vastly different. “We’re very confident in our protocols, and focused on a season that ends on Feb. 7, and starts and ends as scheduled,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president for club business and league events. “We’ll learn a lot in the months ahead, and we’re confident in our protocols and laser-focused on Feb. 7.”

Yep, the NFL is “laser-focused’’ on Super Bowl Sunday in Florida, where COVID-19 is the new lurking swamp alligator. Never mind that every metric known to medicine indicates the virus infects those in their 20s and 30s in sizable numbers, and that just one infection can trigger an outbreak that sidelines a sports team — see: St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins. And never mind the words of University of Oregon president Michael H. Schill, who said of the Pac-12’s decision: “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes.’’ There’s always a blubbering voice to drown out common sense and try to play doctor.

“These football players are very young, strong people, and physically, I mean they’re physically in extraordinary shape,” President Trump said in a Fox Sports Radio interview. “So they’re not going to have a problem, you’re not going to see people, you know, could there be? Could it happen? But I doubt it. … So I think football is making a tragic mistake.’’

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey Not Sure About Having College Football - WDEF

Even Trump hedged a bit there. Could there be a problem on a line of scrimmage, a transmission inside a confined locker room? Could players get sick? The thought entered his brainstream, which is enough to confirm the obvious. But just as the anti-maskers fight on, so does the football-is-safe mob. Said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who three weeks ago was worried about the efficacy of a season: “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”

The ACC went so far to trot out the chairman of its medical advisory group, Duke infectious disease expert Dr. Cameron Wolfe, who told Sports Business Daily, “”We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe. Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.’’ Note that Wolfe is paid by the conference. Also note his acknowledgment that safety will be a challenge.

You think?

We’re starting to see cracks throughout the pandemic version of sports. Adam Plutko tore into Cleveland pitching mates Zach Plesac and Mike Clevenger for breaking virus protocol to go out in Chicago, saying, “They hurt us bad. They lied to us. They sat here in front of (media) and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. So those `grown-ass men’ can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re gonna do to fix it.’’ NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, lacking the wisdom of a champion, lost his cool and head-butted the inconsequential Moritz Wagner. Social media wars are beyond stupid, especially when they fire up Damian Lillard to drop 61 points after scoring 51 for a Portland team that might upset the troubled Lakers in the first playoff round. The NBA is requiring that players prove “long-standing relationships’’ with non-family members to gain permission into the Bubble later this month, meaning one-night stands and casual flings are out. The NHL allowed a postseason game to extend six hours and five overtimes when the idea of a restrictive environment, I thought, was to get athletes in and out of a Bubble quickly (next time, postpone it until the next day).

But when we venture into amateur-hour debates about whose doctors are right or wrong, the familiar nausea returns: Money, of course, is driving the play-or-not debate. The NFL can’t fathom losing media billions, instead force-feeding players through protocol-dominated training camps. I cringed while watching the season’s first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,’’ blown away by the elaborate layers of safety measures and details required of Rams and Chargers personnel. The virus was the overriding theme for coaches Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn, who barely talked football with players — though Lynn did reveal he had COVID-19. When a fascinating but very bizarre and boring show ended, I just sat there, wondering why the NFL was even attempting a season.

NFL Films and Hard Knocks announce teams: Chargers and Rams to debut on HBO  in August - DraftKings Nation

And then I remembered the billions, waved frantically by desperate TV executives who realize the future of their sports divisions depends mostly on a complete NFL season. Rather than ponder a shutdown, the league is envisioning eventual postponements by the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — and figuring it can play on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well as Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, COVID-19 and player safety be damned. Am I kidding? I’m not sure. I still haven’t heard Goodell explain how the league can avoid an outbreak when respected virologists say it’s inevitable during a long football season. “We’re essentially going into a contact season asking them right now to disregard a lot of the guidelines, both federally and locally,’’ said Dr. Doug Aukerman of the Pac-12, telling the New York Times that football is a Petri dish for the virus. “Playing contact sports, we know there’s going to be a higher risk of spread.”

In good conscience, the entire sport should pause until next autumn. Play college football in the spring? Sounds like more abuse and exploitation of athletes who, again, wouldn’t be paid for TWO seasons within a calendar year. Said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: “We’re going to exhaust every opportunity to leave open that opportunity for our student-athletes,’’ a scenario that wouldn’t allow much time to be student-athletes. A rogue program such as Nebraska is considering a break from Big Ten ranks and barnstorming. Really? If I didn’t care about Nebraska when it was playing Ohio State, why would i care about a program-in-denial that still thinks Tom Osborne is coaching national title teams?

My “laser-focus’’ is on the NFL, the colossus, the closest semblance to “normalcy’’ sports can offer. In the media Zoom call, league officials spoke excitedly about sponsors, parties, the usual Super Bowl festivities. How many times was “COVID-19’’ or “coronavirus’’ mentioned?

Not once.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Podcast

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Media Writers

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