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Colleges should follow the Ivy League, again, and shut down sports this year

Harvard's football stadium was built in 1903.Lisa Poole/Associated Press

Laugh at the Ivy League all you want, you tailgate-lovin', rib-eatin', under-the-table payin', FBS-series-playin’ college football towns across America. You’ve got All-Americans, spring games that draw 100,000 fans, and a legitimate shot at a national championship. You know who you are. We’re talking to you, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, ACC, and Pac-12.

But never forget that the Ivy League is where today’s big-time college football started. And take these next couple of days to ask yourself if you really want your young men congregating and sweating and tackling one another with hopes of starting a college football season around Labor Day.


It’s over for this year, people. The Ivy League just told you so. Listen to them. And give it up for this year.

The Ivy League announced Wednesday that there will be no varsity sports this fall. The league will perhaps attempt to play its football season next spring. No sooner.

Maybe it’s time for a Clemson, Michigan State, and UCLA to take a cue from the Ivies and shut things down until 2021.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Ivy League set the standard for college football. Next time you watch any college, high school, or pro football game, say a quiet “thank you” to Harvard Stadium. It’s because of the magnificent stadium-by-the-Charles, built in 1903, that you have the forward pass and a field that is 53⅓ yards wide.

Seriously. In the early years of college football there were many serious, even deadly, injuries to the young, unprotected footballers. Eighteen college players died in 1905, which led Harvard president Charles Eliot to call for reform, or perhaps abolish the sport. President Teddy Roosevelt, a Harvard grad, called a conference to change the game and all agreed that the easiest solution was to widen the field by 40 yards.


Harvard could not do that. If you’ve been inside its reinforced concrete structure, you know that there is very little space between the sideline and the bottom of the seating area. Simply, Harvard’s playing field is hemmed in by the stadium’s concrete horseshoe design and there was no way the Crimson could keep playing in their stadium if football fields were universally widened. Rather than enlarge the playing surface, folks at Harvard suggested the adaptation of the forward pass. Brilliant. Archie, Peyton, and Eli Manning are forever grateful.

The forward pass would have come to football anyway. That’s certain. But because of Harvard, a gridiron’s dimension of 100 yards by 53⅓ yards was preserved for the perfect game that exists today.

As it was then, it is now: the Ivy League is leading the way. Four months ago the Ivies were first to cancel their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It sounds easy and obvious now, but the Ivies pulled the plug on Tuesday, March 10, when there was still an NCAA Tournament for which to qualify. They shut down before everything changed the night of Wednesday, March 11, when the NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert tested positive. By Thursday, March 12, the NCAA called off March Madness.

Now we have July, August, and September madness as our professional sports leagues and mighty college football make plans to resume the games. And each day we get another bucket of cold-water-reality splashed on our heads.


The virus is surging in Texas, Florida, and Arizona — all college football hot zones. For the first time since World War II, the State Fair of Texas, scheduled for Sept. 25-Oct. 17, has been canceled. And yet Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione Tuesday said he’s still hopeful that the Oklahoma-Texas game will be played at the Cotton Bowl Oct. 10. Nationwide, more than 100 college players have tested positive for COVID-19. Some summer workout programs have been suspended. Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Illinois, and Washington State are among the schools asking football players to sign liability waivers.

College football is not alone here. All of our professional leagues are endangered for 2020. The Red Sox are supposed to play the Orioles at Fenway two weeks from Friday, but baseball’s testing has been slow and sloppy and more players are opting out every day. NBA teams are arriving in their hermetically-sealed Florida space this week, and we’ll await the inevitable first report that the virus has penetrated the bubble. The NHL has fled to Canada and MLS’s reboot stalled when Nashville’s scheduled Wednesday opener was postponed indefinitely. The ever-blessed NFL has the luxury of waiting a little longer for things to shake out, but planning on Sept. 13 at Gillette for Patriots-Dolphins feels delusional.

The Ivy League is telling us something, people. Ignore at your own peril.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.