A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Billy Reed: Just when I was thinking some people had good sense, we find out it really is about the money

Yes, that was heartfelt applause you heard coming from this corner when two of the country’s major college sports conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, announced their teams would not play football this fall due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Finally, I thought, we have some universities who put the health and welfare of their athletes above the money that football generates. Finally, I thought, we have some university presidents with the courage to do the right thing.

Well, silly me.

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.

The Big Ten announced last week that it was reversing its field and would play football beginning in late October. The Pac-12 is wavering under intense pressure from TV networks, alumni, parents, coaches, and even players dreaming of NFL careers. Surely it’s only a matter of time.

Here’s what Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, said in defending the Big Ten’s flip-flop.

“It wasn’t about political pressure. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about lawsuits. It was about doing what everybody else is doing. It was the unanimous opinion of our medical experts.”

What a load of baloney. Of course, it was about everything Schapiro said it wasn’t. Let’s get this clown a job in the Trump administration, where lying is exalted and practiced up and down the line.

Donald Trump, in fact, was among those bringing pressure on the Big Ten. Trump keeps telling us we should get rid of our masks, forget social-distancing, and go back to work and school.

Never mind that Wisconsin had an estimated 2,160 students who tested positive, forcing the university to go to online classes only. Never mind that health authorities said there was a “crisis” at Michigan State. Never mind that Missouri reported that 12 football players had tested positive.

And the stupidity is hardly limited to the Big Ten. Coach Ed Orgeron of defending national champion LSU was full of players who had tested positive. Clemson reported 23 cases on the football squad. Outbreaks at N.C. State and Virginia Tech have already forced those programs to cancel games.

Don’t get me started on the high schools.

We know the virus is deadly because the ghosts of almost 200,000 Americans killed by it whisper in our ears. But the experts admit that we don’t know much more than that. There have been reports that the effects of the virus don’t show up until later in some people’s lives.

Of all our popular sports, football has the most contact, which is a main reason so many like it. The crunch of a hard tackle is music to their ears. But the experts, the scientists, tell us we should avoid contact with others, including handshakes.

The Big Ten presidents caved in to save their jobs. It’s simple as that. They also decided to put money above morality. According to Sports Business Journal, the Big Ten’s six-year contract with ESPN is worth $2.64 BILLION dollars.

The football players will get special treatment that will set them apart from their classmates. At Northwestern, for example, the only students on campus are athletes. They will get tested regularly, a perk not available to regular students at other schools.

The message to the players, even though many may choose to ignore, is that football players are only unpaid laborers. They are money-making commodities more than human beings in danger. Just strap on that helmet, son, and do what you’re told.

So now there can be no more debate about the importance of big-time college athletics. It’s the tail that wags the academic dog. It’s all about values that some lower colleges teach against. It’s all about greed, hypocrisy, and misplaced values.

And, of course, it’s about the money. It’s always about the money.

I never expected the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, and Big 12 conferences to cancel football because many of their members are located in states that don’t put much value on education. But, I thought, the Big Ten and Pac 12 proved they had more integrity and courage.

But the Big Ten schools folded like a cheap tent.

They should be ashamed of themselves for abdicating their responsibility to protect their students. We now will wait to see if the Pac-12 joins the herd or is willing to take a stand on principle.

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