With annoyance college football is just trying to make the playoffs

In this malleable world of pandemics, the ebb and flow of the last nearly two years of living with the coronavirus, one thing can be determined: here and there may not look very similar.

When there were sirens in New York, silence and gloomy isolation during the first wave of the pandemicit was easy for someone in, say, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, to shrug their shoulders and wonder what all the fuss was about this coronavirus—until it swept across the plains a couple of months later.

Since then, it has continued, this rise and fall, with mandatory masks and vaccines, new options, and an uncomfortable and relentless dance for politicians who were pulled by science one way (which is changing rapidly) and the other way. bustling business community (which may not always care about the well-being of its employees with the same energy as profit).

The sport was no different.

Its myth-makers often promote sports as a better version of ourselves, long hailing the playing surface as a truly egalitarian, merit-ridden American workplace, and that’s true—unless you were a black baseball player, quarterback, or openly gay man. , or a female coach at the wrong time. In other words, it was like many other jobs.

And so, as the last wave, caused by the Delta and Omicron options, spreads across the United States from east to west, leading to over 300,000 new cases per daymore than doubled in the last two weeks, there were no exceptions for sports.

The NFL, which postponed three games earlier this month due to viral outbreaks, 96 players tested positive for the virus on Monday. Dozens of NHL games have been postponed or canceled and the league went on hiatus last week. Seven of the 30 NBA head coaches are unavailable for various virus-related reasons, and Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers and Denver’s Michael Malone, whose game against Golden State was postponed, were sidelined on Thursday.

In college sports, hundreds of men’s and women’s basketball games have been canceled or postponed, and many teams have been shorthanded – like Seton Hall, whose men’s team lost six players to the Providence on Wednesday. And seven football programs have pulled out of bowling due to virus outbreaks in their teams. One of them, UCLA, withdrew from the Holiday Bowl just hours before the game was scheduled to kick off on Tuesday.

Most of the teams that couldn’t play were quickly overwhelmed by outbreaks. Boston College tested positive for one player shortly before it traveled to the War Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland on Dec. 1. 22. He stayed behind. By Dec. 25, more players tested positive. There were more on Sunday. With over 40 players unavailable due to the virus, injuries, transfers and withdrawals, the school has decided it cannot safely play the game scheduled for Monday.

In Virginia, positional matches have been moved to an indoor practice area, where the garage doors on both sides of the building can be raised to provide better ventilation. Flat screens were attached to the walls, folding chairs were placed and projectors were installed. However, several positive tests last week prompted the entire team to be tested over Christmas. When the tests returned on Sunday morning, there were enough positive results for the team to withdraw from the Fenway Bowl, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

An athletic coach at a school that was forced to cancel the bowl game said one of his biggest challenges is explaining to athletes and coaches why the rules keep changing, as they did this week when Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut lockdown window to five days from 10, and did not recommend a negative test to end the isolation, which has been criticized by some scholars.

“What we see is a lot of frustration and exhaustion,” said the coach, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said the topic was too politically charged. “It takes a lot of education and re-learning where you are, over and over again. Sometimes they look at you like this: “What are you talking about? You told us something else last month.”

Then comes the crown jewel of the college football season, a four-team playoff that starts on Friday with a pair of semi-finals: No. 1. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati to Cotton Bowl outside of Dallas and No. 4. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia at the Orange Bowl near Miami.

What’s happening with the virus in the rest of the country is a topic that few of those involved with games will want to touch on. Several cases came to light – two with coaches from Alabama, others with players for Georgia as well as Michigan – and universities are not required to test vaccinated players, even though the Omicron variant successfully infects vaccinated people. Perhaps on Friday there will be announcements of unavailable players, as was the case last season.

And the games were protected as such. Practice has been closed to the media since Tuesday – even the usual 15 minutes or so when film crews film footage of players stretching – so it won’t be tracked if anyone is missing, which could raise questions about why. The media sessions were remote and, shall we say, curated.

In one Wednesday, Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden was asked if he thinks we’ve weathered the worst of the pandemic with this proliferation of vaccines. “I mean, I never know when it will actually end,” he said. “I hope this ends as soon as possible.”

He was asked an additional question: when was the last time he was tested?

“Honestly, I can’t tell you because we usually don’t get tested unless we have symptoms,” he said. (This is in line with NCAA guidelines, which call for only symptomatic and unvaccinated players to be tested within 72 hours of kickoff.)

This latest exchange, however, was hidden from transcripts that are more widely shared in the media, as was another conversation about the virus with Cincinnati tight end Josh Wyle, who said he would have 25 family members traveling to the game. .

Scotty Rogers, a spokesman for the Cotton Bowl, said all transcripts are edited “for accuracy and to ensure that included quotations contain substantive content.”

Rogers did not respond to a follow-up email asking what questions about the coronavirus were not considered material content. However, there was much debate in the transcripts about the merits of the Cincinnati area’s characteristic hot peppers.