BY Art Thiel 08:47PM 07/02/2020

Thiel: Problem with college ball? College kids

The ability of college campuses to open sufficiently to permit football may depend on reigning in places like UW’s Greek Row. Can double-secret probation work?

The president of every big-time football school in the country is counting on guys like the crew of Animal House. / Universal Pictures

Those darn college kids. Don’t they know their near-constant desires to get drunk and laid are in the way of the entire purpose of universities, which is to stage college football?

Life is full of hard decisions, kids. You can’t always get what you want, wrote Mick Jagger wrote a couple of generations ago. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

So what do you kids at the University of Washington need?

Hmm. I see.

The results are in — Greek Row with 80 positive tests for coronavirus, UW athletics with three.

It’s early in the testing game, so things can change. But the priorities for attending college haven’t changed in decades, so it’s doubtful a little pandemic is going to alter the lust for liquor and loins.

Which is why Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was ready to share Thursday the contents of his emergency kit for 2020 football. It was a cry for help.

When his careful plan is ripped asunder next month, as it increasingly appears it will be, he and the conference presidents are, according to Scott, considering options that include:

  • A delayed seasonal start
  • Conference-only schedules
  • Moving the season to the spring
  • A split calendar when some teams play in the fall and some in the spring

The search for open windows and back doors is on is because the gradual re-start of businesses and other activities was taken by many Americans as a green light instead of a yellow light.

The confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. have shot up dramatically, including in Washington.  Among the privileged lands, we are the worst.

We are taken as the indolent goof in the global family, the wise-acre drunk with the half-grin who breaks stuff, then lays down a $50 bill and slurs, “Sorry, baby!”

Much like the kids in the fraternities just off the UW campus, reckless disregarders of masks and six feet that they are.

At least 80 have been diagnosed with symptoms of covid-19, according to school officials and the interfraternity council. Meanwhile on lower campus, UW athletics reports three positive tests among 140 athletes tested in the three weeks since they were permitted back to campus.

The consequences of declining resolve among Americans to tolerate a bit of face covering and some space has percolated up to Scott, who is properly scared.

“The last couple weeks have changed everyone’s outlook because of the extent to which restarting the economy and loosening restrictions has led to significant outbreaks,” Scott told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. “I still want to be cautiously optimistic, but if there’s no change in society’s response and behavior, which results in a quick flattening of the curve and a decrease in the spread of the virus, that would lead to a much more pessimistic view about our campuses being able to open and our ability to play college sports.”

There’s still time before the decision has to be made to choose an alternative to a full fall season. But no one in the world besides President Trump has suggested there’s a quick way to force the viral genie back into a manageable bottle.

“It could be in the next week that we make a clear pivot, or three weeks from now — either individual schools, conferences or the collective,” Scott said. “Or we could keep putting one foot in front of the other and things start to look better.”

The seasonal key is less about the athletes’ ability to stick to a rigid protocol than it is the rest of the students to manage their part of the campus social contract.

Robert Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, where the virus rages, said last week that if current conditions persisted, he would not allow campus to open in the fall. The Wildcats football team already has paused their football re-entry process. And that’s with one positive test among 83 football players so far.

Scott and the presidents are smart to plot out every scenario. As the worst year of their professional lives unpredictably rolls out ahead of them, they not only must calculate a complex series of safety protocols for a large contingent of players, coaches and staffers, whose final product is a collision sport among 300-pound men who huff heavily, they must satisfy local political leaders whose jobs depend on massive civic compliance to avert catastrophe.

The lift starts with winning over the latter-day Animal House culture, which “absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

Best of luck, Larry Scott. I wouldn’t wish the task on Dean Wormer.



  • Chris Alexander

    I completely get why all of the professional and “big time” college sports are trying to restart ($$$) but, honestly, they should all just cancel their seasons and focus on keeping their players healthy.

    I suspect that the virus will make that a reality but it would have been nice if the collective sports “leadership” could have come to that conclusion sooner / on their own.

    • art thiel

      I think there’s a professional obligation to try. And we’ve never been through this before. In hindsight, it’s going to look futile, but when Dear Leader says it’s going to disappear, the excuse door is opened.

    • Eric Degerman

      Remember, we’re talking about football – a sport where young men are in danger of being maimed and risk long-term brain damage on every play. COVID-19 is barely more than the common cold in the minds of these kids. Nowhere else in the world do college presidents sanction such mayhem and violence in the name of higher education. And yet, nearly every other “Olympic” sport on campus is funded by these gladiators. There is myriad hypocrisy in all of this.

      • art thiel

        We could go for days on this topic . . . and I have.

  • James

    Google “Alabama college students held coronavirus parties and whoever got virus first won cash prize, officials say”

    Sorry, Art, but there is no hope. This country is jam-packed with SFB losers who refuse to wear a mask, being led by a loser in the White House.

    • art thiel

      Saw the story. College kids presume indestructibility. At least that’s how I remember it.

      • Husky73

        C’mon Art….PLU a party school?

        • art thiel

          Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll tell the story of how the dining room table was broken.

  • Kirkland

    1) Question: How much of the spike is related to increased testing, which logically would result in more positive results, versus people being idiots?

    2) I went to commuter schools, so I didn’t get the traditional “college experience”. I regret missing out on football games, pizza and beer with classmates, and cramming in the library at 11 p.m.; I don’t regret not dealing with fraternities.

    3) If the schools keep trying to play this fall, someone suggested it might be to qualify for cancellation insurance. But I think it’s more of the college spirit of never giving up. As one of the Faber College Mongols (yes, the mascot was the “Mongols”!) said, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No!!”

    • art thiel

      Dunno about testing in the student population, but every athlete returning to campus will have intake and follow-up testing.

      Until covid-19, frat culture was the biggest virus on any campus.

      The cancellation insurance payout won’t cover as much as they will make in televising most of the schedule.

    • jafabian

      Pretty sure the protest marches, the start of summer and premature relaxing of state closures all played a role in the spike in numbers.

      • art thiel

        All true. Next week it will be another excuse.

  • Husky73

    The chances of a college football season may be equal to Bluto Blutarsky’s grade point average…zero point zero.

    • Eric Degerman

      Remember, he got the girl + went on to become a U.S. Senator ;)

      • art thiel

        I knew that 0.0 and Blutarsky’s Senate seat would come up in the comments. World order restored.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Fat drunk and stupid is know way to go through life, Dean Wormer. With the exception of the drunk part, it’s worked out for America’s Dear Leader.

    • art thiel

      I always said Wormer was wrong about that.

  • Ed Walsh

    As usual, accurate analysis, Art. And brilliant, comparing typical young college men’s behavior to college athletes, who already mostly “get it” about body health, while hormones rule for the rest.

    Should give you some idea the challenges before combat leaders in the military are hard enough for “wear this at all times”,etc. But issuing an order without followup supervision & force of law(as in military, my home for 30 years) with this demographic is likely never to work. You got it.

    • art thiel

      I suspect there were some footballers in the partiers, but we’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, the athletes have high stakes invested in their health.

  • jafabian

    There is absolutely no way college and professional sports can go unless the country as a whole is in Phase 4. Period. It comes across like many, including our own government, have the mindset of there being an acceptable number of losses as long as the economy keeps going and that’s obscene. Think about that this holiday season if there are less people celebrating with you than there were before. Remember to vote this November.

    • art thiel

      Remember that all-hands meeting Trump called in April to tell the sports majordomos to hustle back to playing games? Apparently, they didn’t hear the part where he said, “You’re on your own.”

      • jafabian

        What a waste of taxpayers money that meeting was. If you ever check out look up what World Trump Organization employees think of working there. Even before the Orange One went to the White House no one thought much of working there. They were there to pad the resume. And meetings were much like the April one: much ado about nothing.

        • art thiel

          Thanks for the research tip.

  • tor5

    I’m amazed at how well you have your finger on the pulse of college life, Art! This will be a tough nut to crack. I just watched video of a friend–a doctor–at his son’s wedding last week. Even there, where lots of smart, sober adults put safety first, there was more and more casual risk-taking as the day went on. I don’t see any reason to be cautiously optimistic about college kids–pursuing the “prime directive”–changing their behavior. The Pac-12 needs someone like you to give them a dose of reality.

    • art thiel

      I don’t want to paint all college students as Blutarsky, but Greek Row keeps getting worse.

      I don’t think P12 wants my help. They have some propaganda to push involving “student-athletes.”