On Thursday, Jan. 21, Marist College decided that there would be no football season in the spring of 2021. It sucks, but it’s the right move.
However, taking away the opportunity to compete does not just deprive these athletes of a sport they love, but it chips away at their identity. Being a student-athlete is something to be proud of, yet the way the football team has been treated compared to some of the other teams that are playing has made the honor of being a Red Fox much less appealing.
If Marist were to play a football season, they’d obviously be playing through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That’s already proved to be a problem for Marist’s basketball teams, who are currently in the middle of a winter season that began in early December.
Over these past two months, both the men’s and women’s teams have been met with numerous shutdowns due to MAAC officials or opponents testing positive for COVID-19. Other schools in the MAAC have also been met with countless schedule changes. In fact, Siena’s women’s team has only played a measly seven games thus far.
With the way the MAAC season is scheduled, this is feasible, as the basketball season is roughly 20 games that take place over a two-and-a-half-month period. There is plenty of space for games to be shifted if need be.
If any Pioneer Football League teams are forced to cancel or postpone games, it’s hard to imagine there being a full season or playoffs, as there are only six weeks of PFL football scheduled with the FCS playoffs slated to start the week following the end of the season.
So, if a team is forced to postpone a game, there is little to no wiggle room for a makeup game to be played. Likely, PFL teams would be forced to play a game in the middle of the week on a shortened schedule if a game is postponed. In a sport like football, that just doesn’t seem practical. There wouldn’t be enough time for players to properly rest, which only heightens the chances of player injury.
There’s also the matter of team size and its effect on containing and limiting the spread of an outbreak. College basketball teams only have about 20 players on the roster, with roughly 50 people combined in a gym for a game. Those 50 people equal half of the Marist football roster alone, not including coaches and trainers.
This massive number of team personnel makes it extremely difficult to contain the virus. Sure, there are precautions in place for training and practice, where players are limited to their own small pod of a few team members. There’s no doubt that these are useful and effective, but if the team were to play in a game, how would they effectively social distance in locker rooms and on the sidelines?
For basketball, it can be done. Space out 20 seats, making them six feet apart from one another. On a narrow sideline like football, it’s hard to imagine that 100 players would fit and not be shoulder to shoulder.
There is also the fact that Marist, as a member of the PFL, plays teams all across the country. Travel, as we’ve come to find, is one of the main spreaders of COVID-19. By making athletes travel to states like California and Florida, risk of infection would only grow higher. This isn’t a problem for the Marist basketball teams, who only travel through New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Travel to these states require no quarantine since they are considered border states.
Marist basketball also doesn’t have to worry about potentially spreading the virus to students and teachers on campus, as they began their season once all of the students left campus and they end it right around when students return. If the football team were to play in the spring, there would be a risk possibly exposing the Marist community to the virus, as the in-person semester takes place while the football season would be active.
If any football players were to be positive for the virus and not know it, then attend class or come in contact with roommates, then the virus could spread like wildfire across campus. That’s something Marist certainly doesn’t want, as they have already had to put campus on pause twice in the fall with no teams operating during that time.
There is also the fact that we’ve seen how other collegiate football programs tried to push their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, there technically was a “full” season and a National Championship game, but 130 Power Five Conference games and 11 Bowl games were cancelled or postponed during the 2020-2021 college football season.
Hundreds of team personnel, from players to coaches, tested positive for COVID-19 during the season, which in-turn allowed the virus to spread among team members and fellow students.
Of course, there is always a financial side to things as well. In the past fiscal year, the Marist football team generated nearly $27,000 from ticket sales and spent roughly $1.5 million on team expenses. Marist also generates on team concessions, merchandise, licensing, and broadcast rights.
With there likely being no in-person attendance in a spring 2021 season, Marist would potentially lose $30,000 or more, while pumping over a million dollars into the program. And if Marist wanted to participate in a fall football season, then there is a chance that they would be doing that in back-to-back semesters.
So, from a safety and financial perspective, it makes sense to cancel the spring football season.
And sure, it sucks. It really does, and there is no denying that. As an athlete, there are few things that are worse than not being able to play the game you love. Sadly though, cancelling the season is the smartest option, for both the school and for its students.
Edited by David Connelly and Nicholas Stanziale
Image courtesy of Marist Athletics