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Ed Hardin: A messy week in football could change sports forever

Ed Hardin: A messy week in football could change sports forever

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Trevor Lawrence wants to play football - safely.

This could be a week to remember in sports history.

Reports out of several media outlets have both the Big Ten and the Pac-12 ready to announce the delay or cancellation of college football for this fall. That doesn’t necessarily mean the ACC will follow, but it would be a huge statement if it does not.

This comes hours after a movement started in Clemson, where players are organizing as a show of unity to not only play football but to “create a college football players association.”

If the news since the weekend tells us anything it’s that no one is in charge. At a time when college sports, the NCAA and universities across the country are yearning for leadership, there is none.

The loudest and strongest voice we’re heard so far might be that of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who, with teammate Darien Rencher, put out a statement of unity within the national community of football players calling for universal health procedures, giving players the option to opt out of playing this year and guaranteeing their eligibility for when they choose to return.

That was a shot across the bow of the NCAA and every athletics department in the country.

And now we have a fine mess on our hands. Students are returning to campus this week as the pandemic rages and the ADs wait for guidance from their presidents, some of whom have medical degrees, all of whom have a festering financial crisis looming.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the league’s ADs met in a conference call and decided the ACC would move forward, no matter what the other league’s decide to do.

“That’s what we will do until we hear otherwise,” Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield said.

Several ACC schools are already practicing in pads, although the players at Syracuse refused to practice last week over health concerns. Oklahoma, out of the Big 12 Conference, has put its practices on hold. Old Dominion, “on its own,” ended its football season this morning, as did Connecticut last week.

The spit has hit the fan.

One Power Five coach told ESPN, “Nobody wanted to be the first to do it. Now nobody will want to be the last.”

Actually, that seems to be exactly what the ACC and the SEC want. They continue to buy time, hoping for a miracle or a sudden downturn in the current COVID spike, or a vaccine magically appearing on the market while hoping the emerging power among the players doesn’t end the sport as we know it.

That might be happening already.

This is what happens in a vacuum of leadership. If and when we do play football again, it might be in front of empty seats on a campus in financial ruin and the players dictating terms, not Dabo Swinney, the $9 million football coach from Clemson.

The optics are already bad. If, in fact, the ACC decides to play football this fall despite everything going right now, the optics would be horrid.

The current plan, which is to throw these unpaid athletes at each other in a pandemic just to see what happens, is insane. The current plan, which is to play football no matter what because schools need the money to pay for bowling alleys and fake waterfalls and doing so on the backs of the young men doing all the work, is borderline criminal.

That’s partly what Lawrence and players across the country were trying to get across. They want to play, but they first need someone to be in charge, to make basic decisions about how to keep them healthy and make sure their scholarships are intact in case this season is never played. Of course, there are other players who want no part of football right now. More than 30 players for The Citadel refused to participate in the first practice of the season Friday.

While leagues dawdle and drift over schedules and six-week plans and bottom-line reasoning, a movement has begun. Colleges will rue the day they lost control of the cash cow that is football.

You get the impression that everything about sports will change this week. You get the impression that a seismic shift in power is occurring, and universities are scared to death of going broke.

Throughout this entire ordeal, people in and around the sport have been saying there needs to be a single voice that can make decisions and directions for the mess we’re in. And while those same people wait and bury their heads under brand-new carpets of astroturf, that voice might have just spoken.

Trevor Lawrence, the long hair from Clemson, is at the lectern.

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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