From the Press Box: Could football open in the fall as ‘essential'

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As the NFL Draft continues into today and the NFL schedule release is around the corner (usually in early April but COVID-19 pushed it), I am left to wonder if there will be a football season to come back to at the end of the summer.

Several sports commissioners have had conversation with United States president Donal Trump and other government leaders, but ultimately the safety of the players, fans and personnel manning the stadiums is the goal.

After seeing a report last week where the State of Florida deemed World Wrestling Entertainment “essential,” I couldn’t help but to think, “Couldn’t the NFL and college football argue the same thing.”

There is one caveat to how AEW and WWE both control the social distancing while putting on a show for the fans. Some matches are pre-recorded, there are video vignettes and in the ring area it’s generally two to four wrestlers plus the referee, bell-ringer and camera man.

For NFL football, there are about 150 people when including both rosters (53-man game day roster), referees, coaching staffs and “auxiliary crews” (equipment crews and “get-back” guy).

I would imagine for college football that number may be close to doubled because the roster sizes are bigger.

But especially in college football, a case could be made for how essential it is not just to the respective universities (including other sports programs at the university), but the small-towns they occupy.

Many of the college football powerhouses have populations less than 100,000 people. 

According to commercial real estate management group, National Asset Services, University of Iowa in the past has brought in more than $100 million dollars to Iowa City, which has a population of 70,000.

Closer relating to Pampa, Clemson, N.C. has a population (non-university) of nearly 12,000. The university has 20,000. 

But the university generates $115.3 million in North Carolina.

These figures were taken from earlier in the 2010s, imagine what they were more recently.

The case, like many large businesses, could be made for all of football to be essential because of what it does for the hometown. But this is also assuming fans are allowed in the stands and people travel to watch the games.

Should that not be an option, now it’s solely the revenue gained on advertisements, merchandise sales online and, of course, online gambling.

All of this could be a jolt in the arm to an economy bleeding out looking for the bandages. But extra precautions need to be taken, just as they were during this weekend’s NFL draft.

If sports tried to be deemed “essential” it’s hard for me as a local newspaper columnist to say, “Football is essential, but not the local bar where fans go and watch their games.” 

For all we know, those local bars may contribute largely to the small-town’s economy and provide so many jobs for life-time bartenders or students trying to get through college.

I hope football and sport at all levels returns around fall, but it needs to be at the safest level possible so we don’t have to worry about what’s “essential.”

John Lee is the editor of The Pampa News and can be reached at pampanewseditor@gmail.com or find him on Twitter: @jcl1987.

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