For this unabashed college football fan, the press release from the Atlantic Coast Conference was a ray of light in the COVID-19 era.
It basically said there will be fall football. Only conference games, including full participation from the University of Notre Dame.
Something to look forward to for rabid pigskin fans like me.
But – in this COVID-19 era, there always seems to be a “but” – buried at the bottom of the release, with absolutely no explanation or elaboration, was notice that men’s and women’s fall golf seasons were canceled.
The ACC can play college football this fall – which even I must admit makes no sense whatsoever – but not safe, socially distanced golf?
We all know the underlying rationale here. It is the almighty dollar, which serves as the foundation for all intercollegiate sports programs, golf included. If there is no football in the ACC, athletic departments will crater. It is the doomsday scenario. So football must be played, even if the schedule is modified and scaled back a bit.
Nonetheless, the college golf coaches community was aghast upon hearing the news. “Troubling” is what one person said to me. “Concerning” came from another. “Insane” was the strongest comment I got – and perhaps the most on point.
Those who care about the college game must now worry that the ACC decision is the first domino to topple. Other conferences now have cover to do the same.
The people who made this decision, however well intended they believe it is, have demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of college golf. This sport is not like college baseball or lacrosse, which begin training in the fall and conduct what might be called scrimmages, games that don’t count.
In college golf, all tournaments matter. For both men and women, some of the fall tournaments are among the most important they will play all season. Fall events count every bit as much as spring tournaments as it relates to rankings and postseason play.
Those who care about the college game must now worry that the ACC decision is the first domino to topple. Other conferences now have cover to do the same. And if all conferences do not make this move, you have conference inconsistency.
If, for example, the Southeastern Conference plays fall golf and other conferences got the ACC route, does that give SEC teams an unfair advantage? How do you compare a team with nine events as opposed to just five? How do you select All-American teams, or players of the year, if some teams play a limited schedule while others play a full schedule?
Consider the plight of John Pak, a rising senior at Florida State University. He is ranked No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and No. 1 in the recently revealed PGA Tour University Ranking. The latter offers a pathway to PGA Tour access. But if he cannot play, and others can, he could fall in the rankings and lose that opportunity. Can he transfer to another school that will play this fall? Will Florida State support a transfer? With classes about to begin across the nation, is there time to transfer, and is there a prominent golf program that would welcome him?
Then consider the loaded Wake Forest University women's program. Four players will tee it at the U.S. Women's Amateur this week, including Emilia Migliaccio, ranked No. 3 in the world, as well as red-hot Rachel Kuehn. But this likely will be their final competition until some time in 2021.
Not that the ACC or other conferences care about international amateur team competition, but the cancellation of fall golf will make the selection process for the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup that much more difficult for the USGA. This process has been severely impacted already by a major reduction of amateur competition this summer, and not being able to evaluate team candidates in fall competition is problematic.
A fear that some coaches have is, if college football is not played, massive athletic department budget slashing will ensue, and golf could become a permanent spring sport, as it once was back in the day.
That would be a loss for not just the college game, but for the game of golf. We will know more this week.