There were many people who didn’t anticipate or expect football to happen this fall at either the college or pro levels. The global COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly harsh in America, with more than 191,000 deaths at press time, and no vaccine expected to be ready for general use until at best early 2021 according to most medical sources. But sports has bounced back in altered form. The NBA and NHL are having playoffs in “bubble” situations, while MLB is also planning to have its playoffs and World Series in a similar manner starting in October.

However football remains the one whose presence has proven most surprising, due to its nature as a contact sport. When the Big 10 and Pac-12 joined the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, as well as the Mid-American Conference and other smaller colleges in either completely cancelling fall sports or deferring them to the spring, it was widely assumed that would be it for college football. But the SEC, ACC and Big-12 didn’t go along with that decision, and instead decided to generally forego non-conference games. Some other schools such as Austin Peay and MTSU are playing a handful of non-conference games in the fall, then waiting to see what happens in the spring.

Sadly, there’s one group of colleges who aren’t playing at all. The pageantry and spectacle of HBCU football, something that once was the only way great Black college football players got the chance to display their skills, won’t be happening this season. The SWAC, MEAC and SIAC all previously announced they wouldn’t be participating in fall sports, and nothing has happened since to change their minds.The Big 10 remains under fire for their decision, with parents continuing to protest and commissioner Kevin Warren repeatedly being pressured to reverse the league’s stance, even though it was made on the advice of medical staff. 

Interestingly, a story surfaced over the weekend that the Big 10 might be reversing its stance. A Saturday meeting was held between medical experts and various campus leaders, with a medical subcommittee of the Big 10’s return to play committee presenting updates on testing capabilities to a subcommittee of the league’s council of presidents and chancellors. 

Though nothing had changed as of press time, the story set a possible restart date of October 17 for the Big 10, giving them 10 Saturdays of potential conference games prior to the selection for the College Football Playoff field. Supposedly, Big 10 schools would need to have at least six division games, plus the Big 10 title game, to be viewed as having an equitable season to the the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. There was also a secondary proposal that would have the season start either on Thanksgiving or even be delayed and begin in January 2021.

But none of that is going to bring back HBCU football, or any of their other fall sports. Whether any of these schools could have football in the spring is debatable, at best. What isn’t a question mark is the budgetary hit losing football will have, particularly on HBCUs who scheduled games against Power 5 conference teams that ensured them lucrative guarantees, or for participants in such successful events as the Southern Heritage Classic. Those games and that money are gone, and the impact of the losses will no doubt be felt down the line.

No one wants to speculate about what happens if the basketball season also gets compromised or can’t be played. Certainly athletics aren’t the most important thing in society, and the health and safety of all students must be the first priority. But hopefully some advances and headway will be made against COVID-19, and eventually both society as a whole and HBCU sports in particular, can return in some fashion.