By TOM SHANAHAN
Duke hopes to return to the football field Friday night at George Tech. The Blue Devils have been preparing their game plan as usual, but they can’t be sure they’ll kick off until the referee signals for play to begin.
That’s college football in 2020 while trying to play through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duke’s scheduled game last week against Wake Forest had to be postponed – and later canceled – due to COVD-19 infections on the Wake Forest roster. But at least Duke learned early in the week the game was off.
Another ACC game last week wasn’t postponed until Clemson was three hours from taking the field at Florida State. The Clemson and Florida State medical staffs reached an impasse on whether to play the game when Clemson revealed a positive test among its players that had traveled with the team confined in the airplane and then team buses.
That prompted an unseemly war of words in the media between Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Florida State coach Mike Norvell. Swinney accused Florida State, struggling with a 2-6 record, and Clemson (7-1), chasing College Football Playoff berth, of ducking the Tigers. The verbal shots started Saturday and continued through Tuesday’s weekly meetings with the media on teleconference calls.
Duke-Wake Forest and Clemson-Florida State were just two of 15 games postponed/canceled across the country last week. It was the third straight week of double-digit games that had been put off.
This week it’s only five games – so far.
All of this was predictable. Before the season started, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was hopeful the nation’s coaches would act in the interest of the game, calling for them to put on the American Football Coaches Association.
It’s the kind of encouragement to expect from Cutcliffe, but I heard foreboding in his words whether he meant them that or way or not.
From the beginning of campuses opening back up in the summer months, it was clear schools and coaches weren’t on the same page – conference to conference, school to school. Some coaches talked more about getting back on the field – Swinney was among them – than common safety protocols. Some schools have allowed a limited number of fans, others don’t permit any fans. Clemson, not surprisingly, is among the former and Duke the latter.
An article in The New Yorker looked at the risks accepted to play college football this season during a pandemic.
Maybe how this season played out is a call for Czar of Football to get everyone on the same page.
“I don’t think that would hurt at all,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ve always been a proponent of that, some form of a commissioner. I think it would help to make this a little more of a unified approach. It’s been very difficult and splintered, in my opinion, up to this point.”
“I know basketball is looking at the same types of things. It’s such an independent approach and kind of what we’ve grown into as a conference approach. Then even within a conference, not totally synchronized.
“So yeah, I’ve always been in favor of that because I think it would make a huge difference as to evening the playing field, putting people on the same level and in the guidelines, not talking about just a pandemic, but the guidelines that we would follow would all be the same.”
Both Duke (2-6) and Georgia Tech (2-5) are coming off a bye week due to COVID-19. The Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play Miami last week until Miami reported infections.
Actually, it was the second straight week Georgia Tech was sidelined by the virus. Both the Yellow Jackets and Pitt reported infections and contact tracing as reasons to postpone their Nov. 14 game.
Georgia Tech hasn’t played since a 31-13 loss at home on Oct. 31 to Notre Dame in Atlanta. The Nov. 7 bye week was followed by the postponed Pitt and Miami dates.
Duke hasn’t played since a 56-24 loss Nov. 7 at home to North Carolina. The Blue Devils had a bye week scheduled Nov. 14 before the Wake Forest date. Duke has only played one game since its Oct. 17 loss at N.C. State. The Blue Devils had a bye week Oct. 24 and beat Charlotte 53-19 on Oct. 31 at home.
“Without a doubt it’s such an unusual circumstance,” Cutcliffe said. “And you don’t know how much they’ve adjusted or changed. And I think we both have certainly tried to continue to work and to grow as a program.
“So, it’s a little different than an opening game in the fact that we’ve practiced a lot of football, played a lot of football at this point. It might be a little bit more like a bowl game which can have a little different start so you hope you take care of the football and play well early, usually is really important in any bowl game.”
The remainder of the season is a limp to the finish line, including staging the College Football Playoff.
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