Monday, September 7, 2020

All That Matters in a COVID Season

By Jonathan Lowe

Sooooo ... here we are. It's Labor Day weekend in a year that feels as though it's taken a decade to complete. While professional sports have figured out ways to return from their respective COVID-19 hiatuses, we hadn't heard a whistle from the highest levels of amateur athletics. Since halting the last vestiges of the basketball, hockey, and wrestling seasons, the NCAA basically shuttered its sporting avenues. Baseball, softball, lacrosse, track, golf, and more just went home for the Summer.

During this pandemic, almost every major sport in every corner of the globe was effected. Seasons were interrupted and cut short. Key calendar events were rescheduled or cancelled. That is, except for one. Somehow, someway, those "Football Gods" smiled down on the blessed pigskin. Yes, there were inconveniences. However, little impact was seen until a few weeks ago. Now, everything appears to be coming to a head.

Last weekend, in small part, college football held actual games. This weekend, in slightly larger part, more contests sat on the docket. This holiday is usually filled with sights of tailgates, overflowing stadium crowds, cheer squads pumping said crowds up, and football as far as the eyes can gawk. That won't be the case in 2020. With several conferences pushing their fall sports back a few months, the gridiron landscape became more sparse, yet more complex. In the midst of it all, a phrase well-known to fans of the sport might actually be worth something this year.

As I continue to grow older, my annoyance at the phrase "Each Week Matters" grows, as well. I admit that I keep falling into this inane trap that's seeped through our hype-protector shields and into our brains (and I hate myself for that). In past seasons, that phrase has been overused to explain the importance of the sport's regular season. The problem with that logic? The result-based delineators that decide other postseasons are as judged as they come. So many outside factors can decide the road to the championship, which I can get with. But those factors are judged arbitrarily, which can get sticky.

Your team will get high marks if they open up victorious against a top-five opponent. How can that overwhelmingly positive perception be docked if said opponent drags their way to a 7-5 season? There are so many moving parts during the season that each week can't truly matter on its own accord. The same thing can be said about many college team sports (basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, etc.). These tournament selection committees can prop up a particular result. However, it has to be understood in the totality of not just your team's season, but all of the "surrounding" campaigns revolving around that schedule.

Thus, in my mind, "Each Week Matters" just doesn't hold water ... until 2020.

As some of the most historic and recognizable programs take to the field, they have to remember one thing. These schools aren't just lining up against conference rivals or East Central Northwestern Podunk State. COVID-19 is a common foe for all participants in this 2020 fall campaign. "Each Week" that games are played, tests will be analyzed and scrutinized to make sure cases stay down. "Each Week" that results are discovered, the nation will find out whether games may be rescheduled or seasons must be postponed. "Each Week" that successfully goes by could mean the Big Ten moving the calendar up as far as starting their season. "Each Week" is critical concerning the health of those student athletes striving to participate in a sport that has become a huge part of their lives.

This time around, "Each Week" truly does matter. The ultimate goal of completing a season under pandemic conditions is completely dependent on the results of "Each Week." As loud as the bark has ever been, this season, "Each Week Matters" actually has some bite to it.

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