Column: I miss sports, but safety comes first

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Chubba Hubbard runs the ball during the Bedlam football game on Nov. 10, 2018, in Norman, Oklahoma at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. (DEVIN LAWRENCE WILBER/O'Colly)

It would be really nice to have college football this fall if it can be done safely.

However, the last five words are the crucial part of that sentence.

If someone told you in 2019 that a year from now we would be in the situation we find ourselves within today, you wouldn’t believe it for a second.

2019 was a time where the possibility of delaying or cancelling collegiate athletics seemed outrageous.

Today in 2020, it feels like our reality.

Any fan of sports would likely support their return provided they receive the approval of health and safety experts, but Oklahoma State fans seem to have a little more to contend for in 2020.

I tweeted a quote from OSU football coach Mike Gundy as he spoke from the underbelly of Houston’s NRG Stadium following a Cowboy loss to Texas A&M in the 2019 Texas Bowl.

Ah, that’s right, 2019. When the world was normal, and some of the biggest nuisances in most of our lives related to Gundy’s in-game decision-making or the traffic on your daily commute.

Gundy told media members after the loss that he was “... so excited for the future of Oklahoma State football,” though fans were skeptical.

Star running back Chuba Hubbard’s decision on whether to turn pro or to stay in college was looming, and going pro seemed like a reasonable possibility for the Canadian speedster.

Hubbard, the NCAA’s leading rusher in 2019, then announced his intentions in January to return to Stillwater and play for OSU in 2020, which capped off an exciting winter for Cowboy fans.

Acrobatic superstar receiver Tylan Wallace had already announced his intentions to stay for his senior year, the Cowboys will return nearly all defensive starters and second-stringers to their lineup, and longtime wide receivers coach and offensive wizard Kasey Dunn finally received his promotion to offensive coordinator.

It was announced last week that Hubbard was the recipient of the Cornish Trophy, given annually to the top Canadian player on an American college football roster, after finishing his 2019 campaign with 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He finished as a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Obviously, all 21 of Hubbard’s touchdowns occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world is a much different place now, and when Hubbard spoke to the media via zoom conference last week, the conversation was a lot different than it was in the tunnels of NRG Stadium in December.

If the college football season is unable to start on time this fall, a window of concern opens up for players like Hubbard who already have draft value to their name.

If the season were to not start on time, you would probably see a number of players in Hubbard’s position who would choose to sit out for the shortened season and focus on preparing and training for the NFL, which would reduce injury risks.

“I’ve thought about it,” Hubbard said. “I’ve thought about a lot, actually. I’m just going to stay ready, whether that’s for the season or whether I need to take the season off. I’m just going to do what’s best for me and my family. Right now, I’m planning to play (for OSU). I guess we’ll see what happens. As of right now, I’m locked in and getting ready for the season.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to talk about this.”

This predicament not only applies to Hubbard, but also to Wallace and a number of other college athletes across the country.

Cade Cunningham should be making his way to Stillwater as we speak, so he can put on a pair of those OSU basketball practice shorts with the word “defense” laminated onto the back as soon as physically possible as a freshman for Cowboy basketball.

Cunningham is the highest-rated point guard recruit coming out of high school in the history of college basketball, but with many of his counterparts opting out of collegiate hoops for the NBA’s G-League developmental program anyway and only a one-year buffer between high school graduation and NBA eligibility, a shortened or cancelled college basketball season would be catastrophic to the incredible recruiting class Mike Boynton has assembled.

If the season were to not start on time, it would become a real possibility that players like Cunningham sit out and focus on preparing for a professional career.

In January before the pandemic at an OSU football pep rally, Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Amen Ogbongbemiga vowed to a packed OSU Student Union that they would fight for a Big 12 championship this season and give it their all for National Championship contention.

With third-year sophomore Spencer Sanders at quarterback with some experience under his belt, the electric threats of Hubbard and Wallace would position OSU as a contender for the Big 12 title.

Having any kind of season, even with empty stadiums, could help universities across the country survive financially. It would benefit the universities immensely to try to figure out how to safely play these games.

When it comes to players in Hubbard, Wallace or Cunningham’s shoes though, a shortened season means a looming business decision that must come with it.

Hubbard is currently the second highest running back prospect on Mel Kiper’s ESPN Big Board of next year’s 2021 NFL draft prospects, likely putting his stock value in the first few rounds.

Hubbard revealed on Wednesday that he’s living in Stillwater currently, not Canada, through these weird few months of quarantine and social distancing, but that he had actually just returned from a trip to Baltimore to stay with former fellow Cowboy running back and current NFL running back Justice Hill, who is preparing for his second season with the Baltimore Ravens.

“I was staying with my friend,” Hubbard said. “You guys probably know him.”

This situation is overwhelming when we try to comprehend how many factors are affected by decisions during this weird time in history.

With regards to football, Hubbard’s decision will affect everyone in the OSU realm.

Hubbard will obviously suit up and play football again, but the uncertainty remains with what jersey he’ll be pulling over his shoulder pads for his first game back on the gridiron.

He intends to play football again for OSU. That part he made very clear.

But as we have all learned to deal with during this difficult time of uncertainty, some things in life are just out of our control.

This is one of those times.

The Coronavirus situation is not something that I can fix, handle or comprehend. I’ll leave that to the doctors.

But what I have realized through this whole situation is that the world is what we make of it. We cannot control what we cannot control, but we can always control how we react to it.

This is supposed to be an exceedingly exciting time in the world of OSU athletics, and for some people, life in general.

We obviously don’t know where this thing is headed, or when we will actually get back our sense of normalcy.

I think it’s important to remember that, just like Cunningham, Wallace and Hubbard’s possible predicament that could loom over the heads of thousands of student athletes during this weird time, the best thing we can do is hope.

If winter rolls around and this thing isn’t under control, then the unfortunate ramifications will also remain out of our control. It’s either completely safe or it’s completely unsafe. There is no in-between. 

We cannot force a college football season to safely happen. We cannot force Chuba Hubbard or Cade Cunningham to stay at OSU if their seasons are cancelled or delayed.

What we can do, though, is hope.

Keep an upbeat, positive mindset. Do your part. Wash your hands and don’t be stupid.

And hopefully in September, we’ll be watching players like Hubbard line up in the backfield and do what they do best.

sports.ed@ocolly.com