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LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) points to the end zone after getting a first down in the second half of LSU's 63-28 win over Oklahoma in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Saturday, December 28, 2019, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.

The spin-cycle quality to 2020, from the coronavirus pandemic and protests for social justice to the stop-and-start nature of sports, was seemingly already at full speed before this weekend.

But since this weekend, as far as college football is concerned, the spin rate has added a food-processor-on-puree quality.

Months of canceling and postponing and hoping and planning and fretting have dissolved in the past few days into what feels like “will they play/won’t they play” brinksmanship.

College football's 10 major conferences are trying to find their tentative way forward through the potential minefields of decisions that could have drastic consequences, no matter which way they go.

As of early Monday evening — a dangerous moment to pause on the shoulder of the freeway and take stock, as the social media updates go rushing past — the Mid-American and Mountain West conferences had decided to punt fall sports until the spring.

Rumors and reports abounded that the Big Ten and probably the Pac-12 were soon to follow suit, with the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast apparently in different stages of wanting to play.

In most of our lives, there has been nothing like this. It feels like the country is on a war footing — and when it comes to college football, there has not been any season like this since World War II, if we do see some schools moving forward to play somehow while others pack up the gear until 2021.

This could be the most disjointed, shattered season since 1944, when half of the final Associated Press top 20 was made up of teams from military bases and training facilities.

One day we will get back to some semblance of normal. But some things will have definitely changed because of this pandemic, most importantly because of those we have lost and will lose, as well the people who will survive but be scarred by this experience.

Some will be lifted up in unexpected ways, or at least unified. That’s what we saw Sunday night when the #WeWantToPlay movement left the ground and demonstrated the growing power being wielded and demanded by college athletes.

In less than a day, the hashtag phrase was tops on Twitter trends and had been retweeted by college football players all over — starting with players like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and including LSU wide receiver and 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase.

Politicians like U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., chimed in, too, as did President Donald Trump himself, who may still be hoping to attend another LSU-Alabama game.

Even without the catch phrase, I have no doubt most college football players want to play and are willing to do what it takes to have their season. You could hear that in the words of fifth-year Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper to his teammates in a video posted Monday:

“For me, this is an easy sacrifice,” Cooper said. “Think about that, too, when you’re out at the club. You’re not just putting yourself at risk; you’re putting the team and the coaches and my season at risk. And I can’t have that.

“Be safe. Be smart. In order for us to have a season, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Certainly, some of the players’ desire to play in the face of this scourge of a virus can be attributed to youthful bravado, which tells them they won’t contract COVID-19, or that it won’t be bad for them if they do.

Whatever the motivation, the desire to play exists. And college presidents and commissioners dismiss the players’ wishes at their peril if they fail to heed the recent pushes from the players' side that have led to staff changes at some schools over various issues and even the pulling down of the stars-and-bars-dominated Mississippi state flag.

Coaches and administrators are lining up mostly, and not surprisingly, with the players, as LSU athletic director Scott Woodward did when he released his statement Monday afternoon:

“We remain steadfast in our approach in the Southeastern Conference, taking all the available time to gather as much information as possible in order to make informed decisions,” Woodward said. “The recent flood of reports surrounding college athletics does not alter that approach.

“I believe our student-athletes want to play. We owe it to them to make every effort to do so safely.”

The argument is growing, and a tangible one, that players would be safer within the cocoon of their sport and their programs than outside. Overall, the health risks are worth debating. In Louisiana as of Monday, 19 people between the ages of 18 and 29 had died out of 28,954 confirmed cases in that age group. That’s a mortality rate of 0.07%.

Are those odds good enough to play, or at least start a season? With proper precautions, from the schools and some measure of social abstinence as Cooper described, it’s worth a shot.

And if players opt out of playing, as LSU defensive end Neil Farrell has done after the virus hit his family particularly hard, their decisions must be staunchly defended and their scholarships protected should they choose to return next season.

If not, you will hear about that from the players, too. In 2020, they have become a force to be reckoned with, and may be the reason the season can mostly be saved.


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Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com