Mike Gundy, college football’s self-appointed resident social scientist, thinks it’s time to get back to football. May 1, preferably, but he’ll accept two weeks later.
Safely ensconced in his Stillwater, Oklahoma, bubble of privilege where his constant tantrums barely register as a whisper outside the town square and his threats to leave every few years have gotten him past the $5 million a year threshold, the longtime Oklahoma State coach had some thoughts Tuesday on the ol’ coronavirus problem that has shut down the entire world.
According to Gundy on a conference call with reporters, we can only wait so long for the death and sickness to subside because, well, we have a college football season to get ready for and “there’s too many people relying on it” to wait a couple months for the picture to become clear.
Hey, according to “Dr. Gundy,” what’s the harm in 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds possibly getting exposed to coronavirus? If they’re healthy, it’s all good, right? At any rate, we’ve got to get moving, Gundy suggested, because paying salaries and “continuing the economy in this state” relies on the bodies of unpaid amateurs and people will “feel better” watching football on TV.
Herd immunity, right? That’s actually what Dr. Gundy was getting at. In fact, he referred to players as “the herd of healthy people” who can fight the virus, even though that is, uh, not exactly the way any of this works.
None of this should be a surprise. Gundy has been edging toward the cliff of absurdity for a while now. In November 2018, he blamed “liberalism” for players transferring, saying “I’m a firm believer in the snowflake.” He acknowledged Tuesday he’s getting a lot of his information these days from the ultra-conservative One America News Network, an outlet he described as objective and non-political despite its history of pushing debunked right-wing conspiracy theories related to the murder of Seth Rich, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg.
But this isn’t really about Gundy’s political ideology or his sources of information. It’s about him saying the quiet part out loud regarding how many college coaches view their players.
Everyone knows what’s at stake over the next few months for schools like Oklahoma State. If there’s no football season, the entire landscape of college athletics changes forever. If the season is shortened or altered, the financial hit is going to be big even for the rich schools. It’s why I’ve maintained that if it’s possible to play a season at some point in the 2020-21 academic year, schools will do it because the football revenue is that important.
Nobody would want to start the season in January or February, but it’s a scenario some schools have modeled as a last resort. Those are the lengths to which they’ll go to make sure football is played.
But Gundy is pushing for something different, something so tone-deaf that it’s obvious he sees himself not as part of an institution of higher education but as the head of a professional franchise that operates as a separate entity entirely. Unlike the pros, though, Oklahoma State has the advantage of not needing to pay players and thus the ability to keep overpaying Gundy to finish fourth in the Big 12 and go 2-13 in his career against Oklahoma.
Gundy, in fact, said he didn’t see a problem with a college football team being on campus while the rest of the school was shut down. That’s not just ridiculous, it’s self-defeating.
Let’s be clear about this: If it is too dangerous for colleges to open their doors to students this fall, college football programs will not be up and running on campus. It’s a non-starter. Not just because it would defy logic — if it’s too risky for regular students, why is it not too risky for football players? — but because the argument that they’re running an amateur sports organization would be gone forever. The entire model would have to change.
If it really got to that point, forget the whole name, image and likeness debate, you might as well go ahead and pay them salaries. Having coaches like Gundy requiring players to be on campus while every other Oklahoma State student sat in front of their computers at home would be the slam dunk lawsuit of the century, not to mention a massive liability risk to the university if, God forbid, one of them came down with a serious illness.
Sorry, Mike, but going 8-5 like you normally do just isn’t that important.
And what’s even worse is that none of this will embarrass Dr. Gundy, who actually uttered this nonsense: “We’ve got to have a plan and so let’s just stay on schedule. Everybody needs to relax, OK? And I’m not taking away from the danger of people getting sick. (If) you have the virus, stay healthy, try to do what we can to help people that are sick and we’re losing lives, which is just terrible. But the second part of it is that we still have to schedule and continue to move forward as life goes on and do everything we can to help those people.”
If Gundy hasn’t realized by now that the current coronavirus situation is not going to end based on the college football schedule, he’s probably never going to get it. At some point when it’s safe to do so — hopefully soon — we are going to be able to open up parts of our country. Based on the experience in other countries, there may be some stops and starts. We just don’t know. But one thing is very clear: Football practice, for now, is just not part of the calculus.
And it sure as heck isn’t happening by May 1.