As with all things related to college football at the moment, The Associated Press preseason All-America team, which was revealed on Tuesday, might look good only on paper. It included Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman — along with eight others who won’t play football this fall, because either they or their university presidents did not believe it was safe.
The announcement became another in the persistent drip of reminders about how tenuous this truncated, diminished college football season remains less than two weeks before it is scheduled to kick off into the teeth of a pandemic.
Soon after the All-America list was released, Texas Tech announced that it had 21 active coronavirus cases in its football program, and Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley told reporters that an entire position group — save one player — had to stop practicing because of positive tests. And the preseason list came out one day after North Carolina State, which has moved classes online, said it would pause all sports activities after three clusters of cases broke out on campus, including one in athletics.
A telling moment about the reckoning that college football is facing came Monday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where University of Alabama officials reported that they had recorded more than 500 cases since Aug. 19.
Clearly, not even public service announcements by Coach Nick Saban about wearing masks in public — a protocol he has followed in practice, quipping, “I look like Jesse James robbing a bank” — have worked. (Alabama’s nearby rival, Auburn, checked in with just over 200 cases in its first week of classes.)
The outbreaks in Tuscaloosa prompted Mayor Walt Maddox to shut down bars for 14 days, a two-week deprivation of Yellowhammer cocktails that is either the price to be paid for past partying or a sobering reminder that college football really, truly is in jeopardy if college kids don’t stop doing college kid things.
Many people in town find it “unthinkable not to have football in the fall,” Maddox said in an interview on Tuesday. But they had best starting thinking about it.
“There’s fatigue followed by frustration followed by fear, and we are in the middle of that,” Maddox said. “And it’s going to be incredibly difficult until there’s a vaccine for us to fully escape the shadows of Covid-19.”
Similar concerns surfaced several hundred miles to the west on Tuesday, as students were returning to class at Louisiana State while Hurricane Laura took aim at the Gulf Coast. Earlier this summer, there was a virus outbreak among L.S.U. football players who visited a Baton Rouge bar when they returned to campus for voluntary workouts.
Coach Ed Orgeron said on a Zoom call Tuesday that his players would be prohibited from going to bars during the season and that he had discouraged them from going to parties when they are off from practice on Friday and Saturday night.
“Get their girlfriend and go on a date, do what you need to do, take deva of your business and go home,” Orgeron said.
When the Southeastern Conference reconfigured its football schedule this summer, the start date was pushed back to Sept. 26, creating more time for its schools to get a better grasp on the virus — but leaving the conference with only one open week to make up games that might be postponed. The Big 12 will also begin conference play on Sept. 26, but the Atlantic Coast Conference will start games on Sept. 10 to give its teams flexibility.
Those bye weeks may come in handy at North Carolina State, where administrators, coaches and trainers are grappling with a slippery question: If practice is shut down for, say, another week or so, will there be enough time for the players to get into proper physical condition to play their scheduled opener on Sept. 12 at Virginia Tech? (Texas Tech, which is continuing to practice despite its outbreak, is scheduled to open its season on Sept. 12 against Houston Baptist University.)
Since the N.B.A. and M.L.B. returned from long layoffs, there has been a spike in injuries — particularly in baseball, where pitchers have blamed a limited ramp-up to their delayed season. Though the shutdowns of college football practices have not been nearly as long, the physical demands of the sport are generally more stringent.
Also, uncertainties remain about residual effects of the coronavirus — particularly myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that contributed to the Big Cilt and Pac-12 conferences’ decisions not to play football this fall. A cardiologist at Ohio State is nearing publication of a study in which nearly 15 percent of athletes who contracted the virus showed signs of myocarditis when tested with a cardiac M.R.I.
One athlete coming to terms with those consequences is Mikele Colasurdo, a 19-year-old freshman quarterback at Georgia State, who is sitting out this season because doctors discovered his heart had become inflamed after he contracted the virus.
“The reason why I got Covid in the first place was me being selfish and seeing people outside of the football facility without a mask, and I wasn’t doing my part,” Colasurdo said Tuesday as he wore a light blue medical mask while on a conference call with reporters.
He was concerned, particularly after the diagnosis of his heart issues, that a brief slip could have extended consequences. He has apologized to his coaches, teammates and trainers.
“I think that we’re all kind of learning that this thing is a little more serious than we initially thought,” Colasurdo said, an apt assessment for a college football season with prospects that seem to look good only on paper.