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Memphis football is back, even if nobody knows how or when this season will end

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 8/6/2020 Mark Giannotto, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Memphis receiver Damonte Coxie celebrates a touchdown against the Mercer defense during their college football game at The Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday, September 1, 2018. © Mark Weber, The Commercial Appeal Memphis receiver Damonte Coxie celebrates a touchdown against the Mercer defense during their college football game at The Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday, September 1, 2018.

If even the best laid plans often go awry, what the heck do we make of college football this year?

There is no bubble like the NBA or NHL. There isn’t daily testing like the NFL is currently conducting. There isn’t natural social distancing out on the field like Major League Baseball. 

There are 10 different plans and protocols for 10 different FBS conferences that decided to forge ahead. There are a bunch of 18- to 22 year-olds who can’t act like normal 18- to 22-year-olds for this to work. There is an acceptance that even if those 18- to 22-year-olds do everything right, some of them almost certainly still will contract COVID-19.  

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There are hard questions for university administrators and coaches about the morality of fielding a football team on campus when they’ve determined it’s not safe yet to have the general student population on that same campus. 

So Memphis football will be back at practice again Friday, even if nobody knows how or when this season will end.

More: Memphis football coach Ryan Silverfield: 'No one has come out publicly and opted out'

I don’t blame schools like Memphis for trying to play 11 games. I don’t blame the Tigers for asking fans to help shoulder the desperate financial straits they’re now in because of this pandemic. They wouldn’t be trying, and they wouldn’t be asking, if their entire operation weren’t teetering on the brink of consequences that were unimaginable just a few months ago.

“We are at a point where, frankly, the financial impacts of this are becoming very frightening and concerning,” Memphis athletics director Laird Veatch said. “It’s looking pretty dire, and really it’s to a point now where if we’re not able to manage this, if we don’t get the support we need, it’s going to start impacting people and jobs and salaries and programs.”

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So Memphis needs you now more than ever, even if you don’t necessarily support its attempt to play football in the middle of a global health crisis. The school needs the 13,000 or so fans who bought season tickets to be willing to give that money to Memphis for the opportunity to attend maybe only one game this year. 

They need it because, as of now, there will be only about 4,000 people allowed inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium this season, and that includes students and players’ families and recruits. 

They need it because ticket sales for football and men’s basketball are the athletic department's two biggest revenue streams, and that doesn’t even include the donations tied to men's basketball season tickets.

Who here thinks the Liberty Bowl or FedExForum is going to be full of Tigers blue again anytime soon? Who here thinks this season will go off as planned?

"We have to expect and anticipate ... there will be cancellations," Veatch said. "Not everybody will get in every game."

More: Memphis outlines options for football season-ticket holders in 2020

This isn’t a Memphis problem, of course. It isn’t even just a college sports problem. This is a global problem. Businesses and restaurants and organizations all over this country are not going to make it because of the effects of COVID-19, and those that are still around are in survival mode.

Memphis athletics fits into that latter category. Nobody should be suggesting Tigers football or basketball will end because of this pandemic. But women’s soccer or men’s tennis or track and field, or any of the other Olympic sports programs that the university fields might. 

Blame the billion dollar business that college football has become. Blame how reliant athletic departments across the country are on the money football brings in. Blame the structure of the sport, and the lack of a central leader with the authority to guide these schools through an unprecedented pandemic. 

Blame the farce of an amateur model that the NCAA, more than ever, needs to overhaul.

If this were strictly about the health and safety of the players on the field, there probably wouldn’t be a football season. But these administrators, these decision makers, they can’t be that naive. Not with the way the system is currently set up. 

If this were any other year, the first day of the Tigers’ training camp would be full of hope and joy and expectations heading into coach Ryan Silverfield’s first season leading the program. If this were any other year, this column would be about the disrespect shown Memphis by those voting in this year’s preseason Amway Coaches Poll. 

How can the Tigers be unranked, behind Central Florida and Cincinnati, when they beat Cincinnati twice to win the AAC title last year and have the league’s leading returning passer (Brady White), rusher (Kenny Gainwell) and receiver (Damonte Coxie) back?

But this obviously isn’t any other year. It’s a year in which protocols and testing and contact tracing will be more important than schemes and depth charts and play-calling. It’s a year that probably will be unsatisfying because nobody knows whether this actually will work. It’s a year everybody deep down knows wouldn’t even be starting right now if not for the financial stakes involved. 

“It’s like a storm,” new Memphis defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said. “The people that find a way to dance in the rain are going to make it through. We’re going to be in it anyways, so we might as well dance in the rain.”

How’s that for a motivational speech? 

Welcome to the 2020 college football season, where schools will try to turn COVID-19 testing swabs into sambas. 

Here's hoping it's not the perfect storm.

You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis football is back, even if nobody knows how or when this season will end

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