Universities prepare to risk lives for large amounts of money, football season
When college students step back onto campus next month, it undoubtedly will not be because it is safe to do so. The recent spike in cases of COVID-19 across the country has clearly proven the global pandemic to be worsening rather than improving.
The state of Texas reported 75,000 new cases of coronavirus in the final three weeks of June alone; this is a significant increase from the number of cases reported in March when the University of Houston System first decided to close down in-person classes at each of its campuses.
As the number of cases statewide continues to rise, it is becoming not only disturbing, but outright bizarre to hear conversations pertaining to reopening traditional class schedules at universities across the country.
On June 2, University President Renu Khator released a statement outlining Houston’s reopening phases. The highlight of the message was the University’s plan to transition all classes, regardless of original delivery format, to online beginning after Thanksgiving break.
Moreover, it was added that classes with larger enrollment numbers would be entirely online. A little over one week later, the University announced that all classes would be at least partially online.
Still, the University continued to make clear its desire to have a campus experience once the month of August rolled around.
But why the roller coaster of announcements? A university with the means of UH undoubtedly has the proper data and tools at their disposal to make one decision and stick to it. Thus far, they seemingly have exhausted little to none of them.
The state of the pandemic in Texas, more specifically in Houston, is increasingly worse than it was when classes were originally suspended several months ago.
It simply does not make any sense to discuss resuming even one class in a traditional or even a “hyflex” format now, when conducting every class in an traditional format was deemed irresponsible during the lighter stages of COVID-19.
Up to this point, President Khator and University officials have held on to the possibility of moving forward with in-person classes the way fictional explorer Cliff Hanger held onto the side of a mountain while dangling for dear life in the early 2000’s children’s series Between the Lions.
They’ve tried their best to pretend as if the decision to have traditional, partial or fully-online classes this coming semester is a difficult one, when in reality, it could not be more simple.
They have flip-flopped and done their best to seemingly minimize the risk that students would be exposing themselves to by participating in a shortened or modified in-person semester.
Six Houston student-athletes testing positive just over one month ago after the resumption of voluntary workouts should have been all that was needed for the University to officially announce plans for a fully-online version of the coming semester.
As students try their best to prepare for Fall 2020, they do so with a tremendous amount of uncertainty and with the understanding that University officials are likely to tweak their plans at any moment, while also slowly coming to the realization that they do not have their best interest at heart.
Collegiate sports and profit
But why? Obviously it’s no secret that the answer to this two-word question in most situations is almost always money. In this particular scenario however, it is athletics based money. Afterall, UH does not refer to itself as “The Powerhouse” for nothing.
Fall sports on every level across the United States are currently facing an extreme level of unpredictability.
As the NBA begins their quarantined “bubble” version of its game in an attempt to finish a season that was supposed to be over in June, other sports such as cross country, soccer and golf are left to wonder how their season will play out, if at all.
College sports, unlike the NBA, do not have the luxury of quarantining together at Disney World as if they were attending a three-month long sporting retreat.
First, there are simply too many collegiate programs. The logistics of it all would be simply too overbearing to overcome.
Second, as their bank accounts will show, collegiate athletes are still college students and you cannot (legally) allow college students to ignore classes in order to play a single season of their respective sport.
So while university officials all across the country scramble to preserve their fall schedules, they do so knowing that conducting fall sports cannot be justified if they deem the coronavirus pandemic too dangerous to resume regular, in-person courses.
In essence, the University of Houston, like most major universities currently, is skeptical to go entirely online for the upcoming semester because it is likely a death sentence for their fall sports, football in particular.
How can you tell your non-athlete students that attending classes is too dangerous, while simultaneously telling your athletes that they must gather in large numbers, travel long distances and come into contact with thousands of strangers all for a chance to play a game? The answer is you cannot.
The “solution” is then to force all of your students to attend regular classes as if everything is fine. At least until the, likely conference-only, season is wrapping up right around Thanksgiving.
College’s 25 most valuable football programs bring in over $2 billion of revenue per year. In the 2018-2019 academic year, athletics at the University of Houston alone generated $75 million. In layman’s terms, the business of college sports is BOOMING.
Look, I get it. It’s hard to walk away from those types of numbers. It’s easy to find yourself in a position of hesitation when the decision you must make is literally worth a Showtime drama starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti.
But when President Khator became the leader of this university, she agreed to make the best decisions for the students who proudly wear Cougar red.
Though the decision of transitioning all courses entirely online this fall will surely have numerous negative outcomes, it is the obvious decision to make. At this point, it is simply about making the best out of a historically terrible situation.
The health of students across the country is not worth putting at risk for a single season of sports. If agreeing that meeting in person is too dangerous leads to the cancellation of fall sports then so be it.
It’s time for the University to step up and lead by making the decision that other universities will likely follow.
Only then, will its “Powerhouse” nickname truly carry the integrity we have all come to witness on a daily basis as members of the UH system community.
Christopher Charleston is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]