When to start college football? Not a day before it’s safe for all students to be on campus

Is it any surprise that the states in the biggest rushes to reopen for business are some of the same ones most determined to get their revenue-driving student-athletes back playing again?

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Auburn v Georgia

“Operation Slow Your Roll” sounds about right.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

“Operation Warp Speed,” people.

That’s the catchy moniker the Trump administration has slapped on efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine — with hundreds of millions of doses available — by early January.

To which I ask: What could go wrong?

But also: What the heck do trivialities like adequate testing and an effective vaccine have to do with getting our sports leagues going again, anyway?

Clearly, the answer to the latter question is “nothing.” Warp speed isn’t fast enough for the rulers of the sports world.

The NBA is looking at bringing all its teams to a single location — possibly Disney World in Orlando, Florida — in time to resume its season. A goofy idea? A mickey-mouse solution? Perhaps not if the league can squeeze in the Finals before a second wave of the coronavirus that infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci calls “inevitable.”

The NHL, wanting to finish its season, too, is considering having each division host all its teams’ remaining home games at the same arena. You think the Blackhawks were bad at the United Center? Just wait until they call the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, home.

There’s talk in baseball about getting games going by the start of July, with three 10-team divisions aligned geographically. No fans in the seats at Guaranteed Rate Field, Wrigley Field and every other ballpark? Who needs ’em?

You can bet the NFL has every intention of playing, too. What’s America without pro football? A petri dish of despair, that’s what. At least this league has a bit more time on its hands.

But then there’s college football. I don’t know about you, but this is where I draw the line.

No warp speed here, please.

“There isn’t a model I can run to fix the [economic] problem of not having any football,” UCF athletic director Danny White told ESPN.

Yeah, well, to put it bluntly: Bringing football players back to campus one month, one week, one day, one minute before it’s deemed safe for all students to be back on campus would be despicable, reckless and unconscionable.

No, it hasn’t come to that yet. Many schools are announcing that they plan to have students back for the fall semester, and many more schools that haven’t announced it eventually will, too. Enrollment numbers depend on it, after all. But no one knows yet whether this will actually be feasible when the time comes.

I have college kids who will be a sophomore and a freshman in the fall. I can’t even begin to imagine trying to convince parents of football players of the same ages that their kids’ health and safety are less important than mine.

The talk of college football getting off the ground undoubtedly has been somewhat lost in all the talk of the pro leagues doing likewise. Chicago isn’t exactly at the heart of college football country, so we’re not focusing on it much here. But coaches, media and fans in Texas, Oklahoma and, of course, throughout the South are making tons of noise about it.

Is it any surprise that some of the states in the biggest rushes to reopen for business — here’s looking at you, Deep South — are some of the same ones most determined to get their revenue-driving student-athletes back playing again?

Or as a certain Twitter user with a really huge following might put it: Liberate the SEC!

Federal officials and state governors will have their say about when and how college football returns. The NCAA will, too. But don’t be surprised if the result isn’t an all-for-one, one-for-all arrangement.

As SEC commissioner Greg Sankey put it in comments to a Jacksonville, Florida, radio station: “There is room for different conferences to make different decisions.”

But kids are kids, no matter where they live. Everybody should pump the brakes on college football at least until all the pro sports have cleared a path.

JUST SAYIN’

NASCAR announced Thursday that it will resume its season May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, making it the first major U.S. sport to return post-coronavirus outbreak.

That was about as hard to see coming as a left turn, was it not?

• Will Episode 5 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” finally be the one that tells the inside story of Randy Brown and Rusty LaRue retrieving a woozy Bill Wennington after the big fella’s controversial “vacation” at the Deerfield Public Library?

• The NCAA has come around in support of a proposal for college athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses. Many are speculating that NIL legislation could be in place in time for the start of the 2021 football season.

In related news, the gap between the elites and the also-rans in college sports — football and basketball, especially — just got bigger.

At Clemson, the next Trevor Lawrence will have a parade of adoring fans lining up for his autograph. At LSU, the next Joe Burrow will make a mint off sales of his jersey. At Texas A&M, the next Johnny Manziel will do, you know, the same things the last Johnny Manziel did.

But we kid Johnny Football!

Or any of those Blue Chip superstars could go to Illinois, where he’ll be lucky if someone comes up to him and asks, “Do you know where I can buy basketball tickets?”

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