The Atlantic

College Football’s Great Unraveling

The pandemic is bringing the sport face-to-face with its deepest flaws.
Source: Shutterstock / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

This week, the bottom fell out of college football. The future of the fall season had been wavering for more than a month as the coronavirus continued to burn through much of the United States, and on Tuesday, the Big 10, the conference that comprises the Midwest’s major football programs, was the first to topple. It canceled its fall season, and a few hours later, the Pac-12, which represents major programs on the West Coast, made the same call.

Forgive me for trying to put these cancellations in their bizarrely complicated context. The Big 10 and Pac-12 are two of the five regional conferences that make up college football’s top tier as the Power 5, which together play for the sport’s most prestigious, but certainly not its only, national championship. (Central Florida fans, please don’t email me.) The schools of the SEC, Big 12, and ACC, which cover the Southeast, Great Plains, and East Coast, respectively, are moving ahead with football for now, game schedules redrawn.

The reasoning behind the Big 10’s and Pac-12’s decisions to shut things down is both obvious and inscrutable. Both conferences cited ongoing concerns about COVID-19’s impact on athletes’ health. But they haven’t explained what has changed since last week, when the Big 10 a new, supposedly coronavirus-proof schedule. (When reached for comment, the Pac-12 referred to its previous public statement

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