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Staff photo / James Madison University quarterback Ben DiNucci, left, is tripped up by UTC's Jerrell Lawson, on ground, on Aug. 21, 2019 at Finley Stadium. This year's scheduled UTC-JMU game is at risk due to decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Survival of the fittest.

At first glance, the Southeastern Conference's recent decision to limit its 14 schools to 10 games against only league members this football season looks to be exactly that. To heck with everyone else. We'll play each other, which will boost interest and ticket sales — if ticket sales are allowed — and not have to share anything with anyone.

And on some level, it may be that way. The Power Five conferences have been inching in that direction for years, and given the prices they charge, those schools' fans won't complain much if a Football Championship Subdivision school such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga no longer appears on the schedule.

Yes, it's devastating to the little guys not to cash in on those paydays. SEC schools were expected to hand over close to $36 million to programs such as Charlotte and Kent State — which are part of the Football Bowl Subdivision but belong to the Group of Five conferences — as well as several more million to FCS schools such as Furman. Perhaps hardest hit of that group was Louisiana-Monroe, which lost $3.2 in guaranteed revenue because of the cancellation of its games against Arkansas and Georgia.

Said Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yuracheck to The Associated Press last week: "Some feathers may be ruffled, but got to do what's best for SEC."

Yet this may also be one time when everyone needs to do what's best for themselves, if only to hope to save themselves from a coronavirus pandemic that threatens to destroy far more important things than college football, such as life itself.

"I like the ACC decision to preserve a nonconference game," UTC athletic director Mark Wharton said Friday, two days after the Atlantic Coast Conference revealed its plan and one day after the SEC made its decision that included opening on Sept. 26. "I think the SEC, like a lot of people, was looking for a way to push the season back, to compress the schedule."

Fortunately for Wharton, UTC's schedule remains untouched, at least until Tuesday, when the NCAA is scheduled to announce whether it will conduct fall sports championships, including for the FCS.

If it cancels those championship events, as expected, the Mocs' Sept. 12 game against James Madison University is off the board because JMU's Colonial Athletic Association had already canceled its fall sports and the school was only going to attempt to play if the NCAA was going to proceed with the FCS playoffs.

"Right now, our opponents are still intact," Wharton said. "Our pay game at Western Kentucky is still on for Sept. 3. But we are talking to a lot of schools. If the NCAA does what many think it will do on Tuesday and does away with all fall championships, we may have some changes."

We are all in a constant state of change in battling this pandemic. Have been since March 12. In everything from whether to wear masks, how far apart to stand, does warmer weather hinder or help the spread of the virus, you name it and the answers to those questions have all changed over time.

What hasn't within the South is a seemingly addictive need for football at the high school and college levels, the health risks be darned.

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AP photo by Brian Blanco / Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Caleb Evans (6) looks for an open receiver during a Sun Belt Conference game against Appalachian State on Oct. 19, 2019, in Boone, N.C. Louisiana-Monroe will lose $3.2 in guaranteed revenue this year because of the cancellation of its games against Arkansas and Georgia, a result of to the SEC's decision to play a 10-game league-only schedule this season.

Is any of this smart, or at least less than unfathomably stupid? We'll see.

That will only become clear as we learn how many lives were lost as the direct result of playing sports against all logic. Only when we know how many deaths could be directly traced to those who were infected by the playing of sports will we know the true lunacy or lucidness regarding decisions to play.

Let a few friends and family members perish because they came in contact with relatives playing high school or college football — especially the former, because you can't put high school athletes in a bubble — and our view of this and those who pushed it on us may change dramatically.

Or maybe we'll get unbelievably lucky and no such incidents will occur.

Then again, maybe the better angels of our young athletes will thwart such risky business before it begins.

In a Washington Post article this weekend, details of a call between a group of SEC athletes and league administrators this past week highlighted the concerns of those expected to take the field this fall.

According to the article, one unnamed player said to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey: "For so much unknown in the air right now, is it worth having a football season without (health) certainty?"

Replied the commish, who earned $2.8 million in 2018: "Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible, with the understanding there aren't any guarantees in life."

Said Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II of that lack of guarantees: "As much as you guys don't know, it's just kind of not good enough."

Ouch!

Or, as Bear Bryant used to proclaim from time to time after a particularly jolting tackle: "Bingo!"

Sankey's right that there are no guarantees in life. We are not guaranteed to lose a single soul if we play football this fall at either the high school or college level, or both. We are, however, guaranteed to have a whole bunch of athletic departments at both those levels all but financially collapse without football.

But with even the most generous of estimates believing a vaccine won't become available until late November, and no remedy seemingly in the works before then, one can't help but wonder if any logic for playing, other than the almighty dollar, is just kind of not good enough.

While it would certainly ruffle some feathers, is it not time to do what's best for the health of the masses rather than the wealth of a few athletic departments?

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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