On a cool and sunny Saturday last month, just the type of day that would suggest that the world is perhaps more normal than what we know it to be at this time, I read a story in my local paper about the Ohio governor’s appointed successor to former state health director Amy Acton, Joan Duwve.
Duwve decided to withdraw her name from consideration, she said, because she became aware of the criticism and harassment Acton received during her tenure, the result of some decisions Dr. Amy made in closing down operations she felt were unsafe.
While I think there may have been some other factors in play as to why Dr. Duwve declined to accept Gov. DeWine’s endorsement, such as the extreme likelihood that, because of her past support of programs antithetical to a pro-life, Republican-controlled senate, she wouldn’t have been confirmed anyway, I do think it shows something else. And that is when it comes to those who have to make the difficult COVID-related decisions in the midst of a once-in-a-century health crisis, heavy are the crowns that ride atop their weary heads.
Of course, as far as what to allow and how what is allowed should operate, well, that has indeed impacted pretty much every aspect of the way we live. The economy, especially small businesses which include so many bars and restaurants, has suffered so very greatly, with some owners already making the decision to shutter the operations permanently.
Based on a survey conducted by researchers at Florida State University, 15.2 percent of small businesses have already closed for good. Even for those that are operating, it seems likely there’ll be more that won’t survive the profit-killing restrictions on indoor dining once the weather turns far too cold to eat alfresco.
Of course, sports has also been significantly impacted with sports leagues either unwilling to expose their athletes to danger or truncating schedules after ramping up precautionary steps. An example of the latter involves my alma mater Miami University’s Mid-American Conference. The conference had its six-game season’s start pushed past the two best weather months to November. That robs me of my annual ritual to attend a mid-October game at Miami’s Yager Stadium, which provides a world-class view of fall color when I sit on the home side above the top of the visitors’ side.
As to whether the decision-makers governing different sports were willing to allow play or not, well, as is so very often the case in the world, it is indeed about the greenbacks. Pro sports, from hockey to basketball to baseball and on to football, found their way back onto the ice, court, diamond and gridiron because multimillions in television money for the broadcasting rights has or will soften the economic blow for sports that have been played in empty or nearly empty venues.
Of course, when the Big Ten just days after releasing a schedule on Aug. 11 abruptly voted to cancel the fall sports season and the league commissioner Kevin Warren was forced to deliver that news, the uproar could be heard all over several Big Ten states, since it was obvious other major football conferences intended to play.
Following the announcement, the squeaky wheels began and grew louder and louder. Arguably the league’s most transcendent star, Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields, started an online petition with the message “#WeWantToPlay” that easily and quickly exceeded 200,000 signatures. Further wheels could be heard squeaking when a contingent of Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin parents traveled to Rosemont, Illinois, to Commissioner Warren’s office to rally and voice their displeasure.
Yet another squeak was plainly heard when a call came from the Oval Office to the commissioner, and a President took time out of his busy day to push for some reconsideration, no doubt realizing the political potential of putting smiles on voters’ faces in some key battleground states found in the Big Ten if footballs were teed up.
With the added grumblings from people who simply couldn’t understand how high schools were playing and pro teams and other college teams were doing likewise, 40-plus days later, 14 school presidents capitulated, and Commissioner Warren announced on Sept. 16 the return of the nine-game Big Ten schedule that kicks off this weekend to the delight of so many.
As for the whys, while the league pointed to better science and rapid testing capabilities, it’s pretty clear two things were at play. One, all those squeaks needed some grease to quell the dissenting voices and, second, and most importantly, the dollar amount the league stands to make even with strict limitations on the number of fans allowed in the stands from television broadcasting is staggering, as in the neighborhood of $700 million, according to Dan Patrick, who set that figure on his Sept. 17 show. Certainly, that’s more than enough to cover the cost of the increased rapid testing and other precautions that smaller conferences can’t afford.
And so it is that as we continue to proceed through our viral times, the proponents of the two schools of thought locking their horns in mortal combat. While the decision-makers are wont to err on the side of caution and halt or severely limit the “old normal,” when there are enough squeaky wheels demanding grease and there’s enough money involved, don’t be surprised when those decision-makers reverse their fields in similar fashion as the Big Ten runners you’ll see this weekend.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.