Some fans refused to watch games this fall because the entire season felt fraudulent. Others were outraged that a sport was needlessly putting college students at risk. If you did happen to follow along, though, you were rewarded with the usual quotient of memorable performances, like Sermon in that Big Ten title game, getting nudged and bumped but refusing to fall until he gained yet more yards. Without the vote allowing the conference to have a season, of course, his glorious afternoon never would have happened. And the stars and scrubs who fill out the conference’s rosters wouldn’t have been able to spend their Saturdays competing, which is what they had been asking to do. Across the Midwest too, those Big Ten games surely brought joy and communion at a time when both were in short supply.
But the cost for that will never be tallied. How many of those Saturday afternoons spent watching football games with friends bear some responsibility for the 100,000 confirmed Covid-related deaths around America since the first snap of a Big Ten game this season? And because we’re still learning about this novel virus, the damage it wreaked on hundreds of players may not become evident for years. The lasting effects of the 2020 college season are unknowable — and for some percentage of Americans, they are beside the point. Eventually, even the most circumspect of fans will return to congregate in bars and living rooms. And the next time a quarterback in Ohio Stadium takes a snap and rolls out while looking toward the end zone, the voices of a hundred thousand spectators will shout as one.