TUCKER: Waving white flag brings sadness, anger and ‘what ifs’
LARAMIE -- The Ivy League was the first to wave the white flag.
Then, the Big Ten axed non-conference games. The Pac 12 followed. These two again came forward with a #united campaign, demanding safety, insurance, racial equality and stipend reimbursement. In the case of the west coast's prominent conference, 50 percent of the revenue.
The Mountain West started a movement, too. It was filled with common sense. In other words, all that above minus half the dough from the conference.
The smaller divisions of college football saw title games canceled. Most of the teams folded up shop anyway. Aug. 5, Connecticut became the first FBS team to voluntarily close its doors for the 2020 season.
Colorado State, Wyoming's most bitter rival, is in the midst of an internal investigation. Multiple sources reached out to the local newspaper to complain about the handling of COVID-19 from its new coaching staff. It didn't stop there. Last week, allegations dropped about racism and verbal abuse from the current and former coaching staff. All football activities were suspended.
Rutgers' players have been quarantined. Same goes for Michigan State, Clemson and plenty of other programs.
Over and over, college football received stays of execution in the form of no one wanting to take the season off life support. University presidents didn't want that responsibility. Neither did the NCAA.
The Mountain West, and the other nine FBS conferences, provided hope in early August when a new football scheduling format was introduced. In our neck of the woods, teams would play the standard eight-game league schedule. Two games would come against non-conference foes.
That was the rare bit of good news this summer. And it was short lived.
The Mid-American Conference was the first FBS conference to call it quits. The major conferences were holding closed-door meetings. Who would be the first to pull the plug?
#WeWanttoPlay was a last ditch effort for the big conferences to salvage 2020. It was started by the least likely of players, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. His message hit social media late in the night of Aug. 9.
Less than 12 hours later, reports surfaced that the Big Ten would be the first major league to stick a fork in it. The Pac 12 gave up, too.
That all but finished the chiseling on the tombstone of the 2020 college football season.
For the Mountain West, the execution was carried out Monday afternoon. Presidents from the 12-member institutions met and finalized the deal.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl called quarterback Sean Chambers and senior defensive end Garrett Crall into his office. There, he delivered the bad news. These two leaders of the team were tasked with telling the squad.
The roller coaster finally came to an abrupt stop. The band-aid was ripped clean off.
The funeral was quick. The wake won't be.
I have a confession to make -- I penned most of this column on Aug. 5, just minutes after the MWC revealed its new schedule.
Instead of the joy that would come with a decision like that, it felt forced. For the first time in the last five months, I was pessimistic about where things were heading. My wishful thinking was shattered.
No one was eager to drop the guillotine on 2020. It's easy to see why.
Wisconsin and Penn State have both stated that without fans in the stands, both programs could lose more than $100 million. Tom Burman, Wyoming's AD, said without football the university would take a hit exceeding $10 million.
No football at all means no television money. Everyone knew stadiums wouldn't be filled to capacity, but the loss of TV revenue serves as the dagger.
Liability and "unknowns," in the end, were just too much. A father of a current player texted me to say once lawyers were involved it was all over. He was correct. No one knows the lasting ramifications of COVID-19. "Unknowns" is the word MW commissioner Craig Thompson used in a video interview Friday morning:
Who gets the blame for this mess?
The guy in the video? China? The NCAA? Donald Trump? Democrats? Liberal sports writers with an agenda? UW President Edward Seidel and the other MW leaders?
How about doctors who gave the MW different advice than the ones who are saying its OK for the SEC, ACC and Big XII to go on?
Believe me, I've heard them all.
I don't know who to be pissed off at, but does it really matter at this point? What will that change?
Here's what I do know.
Of course a worldwide pandemic would hit when the Cowboys were set to host arguably the best home schedule in program history.
Of course this virus would spread like wild fire when Wyoming is fielding arguably its best team since 1996.
Of course the world would be turned upside down when there is a real shot at bringing a Mountain West Championship to 7220.
Those are painful realities for Pokes' fans everywhere. The what ifs will last a lifetime.
Here's another right hook to the gut -- every fall since 1946, a team wearing brown and gold has emerged from the locker room and played inside War Memorial Stadium. The last time that didn't happen, the country was fully engulfed in World War II. The Cowboys didn't play from 1943-45.
I fell for the narrative that football season would be played this fall. Every time I was asked, I told fans to have faith. I seriously believed. I ignored the constant string of bad news that was filling up social media by the second.
I was in denial.
I feel for the players.
Those guys have been busting their tails, masks on, for weeks. What's most impressive about this young group -- no positive tests. That's a real testament to the leadership of this program. A program that is littered with youth. Now, some have headed home. Will the roster ever look the same again? I guess we will see this spring, which is when the MW hopes to resume a season.
I hurt for the fans.
As mentioned above, this was supposed to be a great season. Hype was at an all-time high for a young group that surprised everyone and won eight games and a bowl in 2019. Wyoming fans are fully invested. There might not be 100,000 of them like a normal fall Saturday in Knoxville, Ann Arbor or College Station, but the passion is on par.
I am sick for Laramie -- Wyoming's hometown.
In March, more than 13,000 students vanished overnight. Coronavirus forced the university to close its doors early. What that did to the local economy is immeasurable. Now, the Gem City will be missing out on football traffic.
Mainly, I'm sad we won't get to see the Cowboys play.
I am a Wyoming native. I was a season ticket holder and didn't miss a game for 28 straight seasons. The fandom has taken a backseat since we launched this venture in June of 2019, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt -- a lot -- to not see football played in Laramie.
There's nothing like the smells, sights and sounds of opening day at War Memorial Stadium. The sun beating down. The laughter of good friends seeing each other for the first time in months.
Now, we wait and hope.
Hope this dark cloud that has been hovering over this planet since the spring will finally lift. Hope people are safe and we can get on with our lives. Hope our economies will survive.
Football seems so small in the grand scheme of things. But, in the end, we are seeing that it's a little more important than one might give it credit for. This hurts. It will continue to sting as we watch the leaves fall and the snow accumulate.
Every Saturday, we might find ourselves saying, "I wish I was in Laramie right now."
I know I will.