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Billy Reed: College athletics directors need to think outside box in this brave new world of coronavirus

So here we are at Memorial Day weekend, and there’s no baseball being played in the major leagues because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Not only that, but the sleek racing cars won’t be vroom-vrooming around the Indiana Motor Speedway in the classic Indy 500, a Memorial Day staple since Ray Harroun dove something called a Marmon Wasp into victory lane.

As actor William Bendix would have put in “The Life of Riley,” a 1950s TV sitcom, “What a revolting development this turned out to be.”

And it promises to get only worse by the time the college and pro football seasons kick off in August. If the Coronavirus prevention protocols are still in effect, it’s impossible to play a game with no contact between players who will be required to wear face masks and stay at least six feet away from each other.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

So, it’s time for all sports executives, especially college athletics directors, to begin thinking outside the box, as the saying goes. For some schools who aren’t flush with cash, this could mean everything from dropping down to a lesser division, changing conferences, joining new leagues, or creating new conferences based on geography to cut down on travel expenses.

Why, in this brave new world, teams from the NCAA and the lesser known NAIA might even for new leagues based on economic realities.

Already I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the traditionalists who won’t accept the new realities. They will have a thousand reasons why what I’m suggesting won’t work. It will be downright laughable to many of them.

But that’s not thinking outside the box.

I propose a sort of revival of the old Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Except this one would have two divisions of nine teams each, all from Kentucky. It would. Slash travel costs significantly while still providing competitive athletics in just about every sport.

The league would not have equal talent in, say, basketball. One division would be stronger than the other. But in the spirit of political correctness, where nobody wants to hurt anybody else’s feelings, we will name the stronger divisions after Guy Strong, one of several coaches to win an NCAA D-II national championship at Kentucky Wesleyan, and the weaker one after Bob Valvano, who coached at Bellarmine before becoming a hugely successful radio and TV commentator.

I purposely left Kentucky, Louisville, and Western Kentucky out of my league because I figured they were simply at too high a level to play in the new KIAC, or whatever they would want to call it.

So, the Strong Division would consist of Bellarmine, Northern Kentucky, Murray, Morehead, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky State, Georgetown, Pikeville and Lindsey-Wilson.

The Valvano Division would include Transylvania, Centre, Spalding, Kentucky Wesleyan, University of the Cumberlands, Campbellsville, Asbury, Midway, and Thomas More.

I didn’t use Berea, Union, or Kentucky Christian because I’m not sure what they’re doing with their athletics programs, but they could be accommodated if they thought they could afford it.

You know who would love my league? The students, that’s who. I’m sure they would enjoy playing neighboring schools instead of out-of-staters of which they’ve never heard, When I was working at Kentucky State, helping start a journalism program, I was surprised to learn that its conference was so far-flung that its closest “neighbor” came from Atlanta.

In my league, ticket prices would be affordable for the average worker, and no coach would be paid more than the highest-paid academic dean. As teachers go, coaches are overrated in my book. So, this would go a long way toward restoring some sanity to college sports, which it obviously needs.

If you think the competition would be inferior, then you need to get your head out of your TV and begin to realize that a lot of teams other than UK, U of L, and WKU play some pretty exciting ball. And that was before the economic crisis provoked by the Coronavirus forced AD’s to begin thinking outside the box,

Could something like my idea really happen? Sure it could. The college presidents have the power to do anything they want. They just need to have the willpower to use it, even If it makes the alumni and donors unhappy.

Survival is the name of the game now, and they can do one of two things: They can say “What a revolting development,” and pray the status quo will prevail, or they can use the crisis to make sports even better at their colleges and universities.

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One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    Billy, you talk as if coronavirus is here to stay. This “pandemic” with 98% survivability has been overblown from the start!

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