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Oregon Ducks Head Coach Mario Cristobal gives intructions to the team. Oregon Ducks football takes on Arizona State at Autzen Stadium in Eugene Ore. on Nov. 17, 2018. (Devin Roux/Emerald)

Summer’s conclusion marks the beginning of fall term in Eugene, and the crisp autumn air brings more than just tuition fees and changing leaves to the city’s residents. By the time University of Oregon students arrive for the new academic term, the pinnacle of Eugene entertainment, football season, has already concluded its non-conference schedule and is moving onto Pac-12 competition. 

Football season in Eugene is the most enjoyable time of the year for those similar to myself, as the energy felt throughout campus and Autzen Stadium can be felt for months during this special time of year. Even those in the UO community that could not care less about sports are a necessary part of the Flock, and gameday activities are some of the most prominent in Lane County.

This year, our beloved football season is justly being threatened by the global pandemic. In these horrible circumstances, universities, particularly universities with major athletic programs, have an opportunity to define themselves by valuing the well-being and health of their community members over profit. 

UO has already altered its operations in a major way by hosting spring term remotely and by planning to use alternative education methods during the upcoming term. However, in the midst of the global pandemic, UO has decided to not release the number of student athletes that have tested positive for COVID-19. This calls into question UO’s treatment of its players and whether the university is primarily motivated by profit or the safety of its unpaid student athletes. This is a discouraging sign for UO’s overall handling of COVID-19 as it approaches the 2020-21 school year in a state where COVID-19 cases are rising in record numbers each and every day. 

Universities around the country are reporting alarmingly high numbers of cases among their student athlete populations, and this secretive move by UO indicates potentially the same. Having a college football season in 2020-21 involves risking the health and lives of unpaid collegiate athletes and the general student population. There is rising skepticism around the nation regarding the legitimacy of the possibility that a traditional season is played. 

In Oregon’s conference, UCLA athletes have voiced their concerns regarding their university’s ability to properly address their health and safety needs. Multiple governors have discussed the possibility of having to shut down sporting events, and large gatherings in general if the situation does not improve by September. Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina governors have all supported this sentiment in recent days.

It is in the best interest of both UO and its student population to not have a college football season this year. It is impossible to social distance or wear a mask while competing. Furthermore, national competitions while students arrive from around the country could provide a breeding ground for the virus. Moreover, UO’s choice to not report case totals indicates oversight and lack of preparedness to handle the continuously evolving situation.

Not having an Oregon football season this year would absolutely break my heart. The thought of this happening during my senior year only adds to the misery. But of course, my personal feelings, and the opinions of others that are not the one’s risking their lives, have minimal value. At the end of the day, it’s truly only a game, regardless of the incredible profits and entertainment it brings to Eugene. I can survive a year without college football, but UO’s unpaid student athletes and my spectating peers may not.