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Saturday Sports: MLB Season Winds Down As College Football Begins

Sep 26, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I wait all week to say it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: College football back from coast to coast. Why did major conferences ka-ching - oh, I mean ka-change their minds? Also, we take a moment to remember the Kansas Comet. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Alabama and Auburn take the field today. Big-time college football is back. Why did major conferences reverse the decision they made a few weeks ago based on the belief they couldn't guarantee the games would be safe for players or fans?

GOLDMAN: Well, because those conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, just on Thursday say they now feel a lot more comfortable sending young men out to play. And the big reason - the Pac-12 commissioner called it a game-changer - is now the conferences have access to rapid daily coronavirus testing.

University of Oregon President Michael Schill, head of the group of Pac-12 presidents and chancellors who OK'd the return, says money wasn't a factor, said it was never discussed in deliberations. Well, OK. But even if it wasn't discussed, everyone involved knows the tens of millions that will now be coming to these so-called Power Five conferences from TV contracts, sponsorships, and that'll help universities and athletic departments that are really hurting.

SIMON: Yeah. So many scenes on college campuses that have tried to reopen, if I might put it this way - party, you know, which has led to coronavirus infections and campuses having to close. What steps are teams going to take?

GOLDMAN: Well, they're going to have to make sure and in large part trust that thousands of young men in the prime risk-taking years of their lives, according to psychologists, adhere to health and safety protocols like social distancing, mask wearing and not going to those campus parties. Many coaches will tell you football players have to be disciplined to play the sport, and that should carry over in the players adhering to protocols. We will see. It's going to be a challenge. There are outbreaks on campuses. The latest count had 21 games canceled so far.

SIMON: And let's take a few seconds. The Major League Baseball regular season is winding down. There was a time when they thought it would have to be canceled because they had to cancel a lot of games. But they did manage the season, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did. You know, it wasn't easy. Less than a week after starting up this season in late July, you had a huge outbreak with the Miami Marlins, who I should say recovered and made the postseason, as did both Chicago teams, Scott.

SIMON: Oh, really? Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, but more on that later. But baseball responded, sent out a stern warning that those who won't - don't adhere to protocols will get fined or suspended from the season. You had bunches of games postponed. You had doubleheaders to help reschedule those games. And yesterday - the 26th straight day that coronavirus testing resulted in zero positive results among players, so baseball can now head into the postseason starting Tuesday breathing a little sigh of relief, but not time to celebrate.

SIMON: And I just got to note Gale Sayers left us this week. I'm going to get a little emotional. Most extraordinary running back in NFL history. For his short career, he was balletic and blazing, a storied figure for his friendship with Brian Piccolo. And as you know, Tom, our oldest daughter wears his No. 40 jersey. He was an adoptive father for much of his life, a real advocate for adoption in African American families. This was a great guy.

GOLDMAN: Great guy and amazing player. Amazing that he left such a legacy as a player after really only five seasons. Still the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame at 34.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.