Big-time college football is on its way back to Wisconsin, and not a moment too soon. The Big Ten’s decision Wednesday to play a fall season starting in October is exciting and welcome.
It’s also a necessary distraction for a community that’s had its worst year in a long time.
Fall football is special and makes everything else seem normal — even when we all know we’re living in extraordinary times. The brisk, cool air. The bright stadium lights. The annual national debate about whether or not a Big Ten team should have its best team in the College Football Playoff. Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Heartland Trophy and how bad Bucky Badger will beat up on Minnesota and Iowa. The smell of charcoal and grilled meat. The mindless pleasures of watching a full Saturday of college football.
Let’s be clear, though: Playing or watching football is not the most important thing these days. We’ve got some issues. Primarily, the two P’s: pandemic and politics.
For starters, many of our children, especially in Dane County, can’t attend in-person school now because of COVID-19. The youngest students are deeply missing the socialization that comes from time in actual classrooms with friends and dedicated educators.
Also, to say our local businesses are struggling because of necessary health restrictions and job losses due to the coronavirus is an understatement. We’re at our best when businesses thrive, jobs are plentiful, people are confident in their careers and brick-and-mortar foot traffic is encouraged. We’re not there yet.
And, yeah, a national election is right around the corner — one that’s tearing the country in two.
But those troubles are exactly why the return of Big Ten football is crucial. Fall football for the Badgers gives us something positive to look forward to — some hope, actually, that better days are ahead — even if it’s just for 3½ hours once a week for two months.
Playing football may seem contradictory. Students in at least two UW-Madison dorms have been under quarantine, and the return of students to campus has increased COVID-19 cases in Madison. We’re concerned about that.
We’re also nervous that students and others could gather in large groups to watch the Badgers on television, skirting public health regulations. Consuming alcohol could loosen safety precautions and risk further spread of the virus. We urge people to use better judgment than that.
Yet all that said, student-athletes playing football is for the best. The Big Ten’s long list of health protocols is based on science and best health practices. Student-athletes can decide not to play if they feel unsafe. The NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and, significantly, the NFL have found ways to keep their games going while taking good care of their athletes, coaches and staff.
It’s OK to get excited about a game during this difficult year. It’s OK to have fun. To cheer. To cry. To debate. To smile. To yell in unison, “First and 10 Wisconsin!”
Did the Big Ten get it right? We think so, but time will tell. We learn more every day about the pandemic.
For now, welcome back, Big Ten football, and welcome back, Badgers. We need you now more than ever, even if we don’t really “need” you at all.
On Wisconsin, and be safe out there.