CANCEL CULTURE

This may seem like a no-win situation, but there's an easy solution

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The Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 can announce their fall football schedules and scramble for non-conference patsies - I'll be stunned if any games are played. If the season does start, it will end abruptly. It's too risky. There's just too much at stake. Like the old baseball sayin' – just wait till next year.

Cancel college football now.

Heck, the Olympics postponed the biggest event in all of sports this summer until next summer, and Olympic organizers and Japanese officials aren't positive the Games will happen even then.

They postponed the Boston Marathon, Kentucky Derby, Masters golf tournament, Tour de France, Burning Man, Emmy and AVN Awards. And flat out canceled March Madness, Wimbledon, Little League World Series, the Houston Rodeo, Calgary Stampede and most of the Major League Baseball season.

If this year in sports were reduced to Twitter shorthand, it'd be "smh." What is so special or essential about college football, especially in the face of a pandemic that has paralyzed the rest of American society?

We don't have to wonder or predict: we already know that students are bringing highly contagious coronavirus to campus during move-in days this week. Watch the local news. College students are returning to campus without face masks, some making jokes about drinking Corona beer, waiting for frat parties to begin.

North Carolina, a member of the ACC, opened its campus to in-person classes last week, and sent everybody back home this week. Michigan State has told students to wait and study online in the meantime. Notre Dame has a "Temporarily Closed" sign on classroom doors. An entire sorority at Oklahoma State is in quarantine. Schools across the country are reporting or preparing for spikes in the virus.

The Big Ten and Pac-12, two of the Power 5 conferences, have said no to football this fall. The Pac-12 went even further, no sports until next January. The Mid-American Conference, Western Athletic Conference, other smaller conferences, UConn and UMass have canceled fall sports. In all 54 percent of the 130 FBS colleges will not play football this fall.

The Big Ten has two schools, Nebraska and Ohio State, stumbling and grumbling about putting together a football schedule outside their conference. It's all bluster and posturing, Nebraska and Ohio State won't play a single snap.

Presidents of Pac-12 colleges voted unanimously to cancel fall football after listening to a doctor – not a politician or football coach – explain how COVID-19 may have long-term consequences to players' hearts. That was enough for the Pac-12 to say they'll consider some sort of football schedule next spring.

If colleges say their campus isn't safe for in-person instruction, how can they say it's OK to play football? After all, the players supposedly are student-athletes, and part of the college experience is getting an education in classrooms, mingling with non-sporty, regular ol' students.

Of course college players want to play, and college towns will lose billions of dollars across the country if football is postponed. Their misery will have company. They can cry on the shoulders of 20 million Americans who've lost their jobs to the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: "Unless players are essentially in a bubble, insulated from the community and they tested nearly every day, it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall."

The NBA is operating under an airtight bubble in Orlando without fans. It's working. Baseball, however, is not in a bubble, and players are testing positive. Games are being postponed so often that teams may not play the same number of games during its coronavirus-abbreviated season. Records and championships won't be taken seriously.

College players are not professional athletes. If football is played this season, on top of career-ending football injuries, players will risk possible long-term medical issues. It's just not worth the gamble. If the SEC, ACC and Big 12 play, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 sit, the championship game will have the biggest asterisk in sports history.

Colleges will not be able to ask players to sign a waiver, releasing the schools from coronavirus-related issues. Colleges already are reporting numbers of players bringing the virus to campus. No sport is more susceptible to spreading the virus than football, with crowded training facilities and physical contact on the field.

The fact is, America has 4 percent of the world's population and 20 percent of COVID-19 deaths. This virus is contagious and dangerous. While young people, say college age, may not exhibit symptoms, doctors say they can spread the virus just the same as older people.

If colleges keep football players on campus for practice and games, while other students are told to stay home and take classes online, the NCAA can no longer pose players as student-athletes.

America is such a hot spot for the virus that most countries are not accepting tourists from America. Even at home, some states have roadblocks keeping out visitors from other states.

The world will survive without one season of college football, while we safely wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. There's just too much at stake now.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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