The game does not begin in the spring. College football is not vernal but autumnal. Nor is it pastoral. It does not foster prelapsarian illusions of a timeless existence for our species, as baseball foolishly does, but with each passing second on two, often simultaneously running, clocks reminds us of the ephemerality of terrestrial life. This is why it ends with bodies on the ground, lying there in stratonic clusters like the leaves in Homer and Vergil and Milton. The oldest and most venerable form of this game belongs, like the present state of mankind, to the fall.

There is no point in dissembling here. Like the vast majority of players and their families, head coaches, coordinators, members of training staffs, and apparently every living person in the state of Nebraska, I believe that this year’s college football season should proceed as scheduled. And I would rather see it be canceled entirely than relegated to the spring.

An entire column could profitably be devoted to the almost total lack of support for this position among sportswriters. The unanimous approval with which the recent decision of university presidents in the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences to cancel football raises the age-old (and probably long-ago answered) question of whether most journalists actually enjoy the sport about which they are paid to write and opine. But in my limited space I would prefer to ask another question: What is really behind the decision of these two conferences?

It cannot be due solely to concerns about the health and safety of players themselves, who remain in any case able to opt out of the season with their scholarships intact. (There are currently 34 such players out of nearly 11,000 in the sport’s premier FBS division, some of whom intend to declare for next year’s NFL draft.) This point was made very ably during the recent player-run #WeWantToPlay campaign by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, a future first-round draft pick whose prospects would not be meaningfully affected by his sitting out:

Meanwhile protocols established months ago have proven successful, with many schools failing to record even a single positive test for the coronavirus, much less outbreaks resulting in serious illness or death for anyone involved in the sport. The actual risk to the well-being of the athletes is minimal. In the same period during which the deaths of 11,000 or so persons under the age of 55 in this country have been attributed to the virus, some 189,000 have died of all other causes. The possibility of becoming one of these grim statistics is remote rather than non-existent. But it is not clear that Big 10 football is any more dangerous than the NHL, the MLB, the NBA, or the rumored American professional soccer league, some of which are conducting fall seasons in so-called "bubbles," complete with de-facto exceptions for fornication. (This is to say nothing of dozens of other purely voluntary outdoor activities in which millions of Americans are engaging as I write this, including rioting and the looting of our cities.) These young men have already enlisted themselves to play a violent game. If they were concerned about the vanishingly small but very real possibility of death or serious injury, they would not play college football.

This leaves us to consider other explanations. Behind the rhetoric about public health it is, I think, possible to detect somewhat baser motives for not wanting to have a season with no or reduced crowds, as was expected in both of the conferences that have canceled fall football. Suppose college ball were to be delayed until spring, as the Big 10 has floated; in addition to not foregoing millions of dollars in revenue from ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise, universities would no doubt be able to negotiate revised television contracts without the competition of the NFL. Schools in the Big 10 were already sharing an astonishing $781 million as of the 2019 season, a figure that has been increasingly exponentially for years. Imagine what they would be able to get for a college ball-starved audience in a season which traditionally belongs in the doldrums of sports television ratings. Such a delay would also give the universities and the conferences more time to devise a way out of the quandary surrounding the payment of athletes for the use of their names, images, and likenesses, and to prepare for the possibility of unionization.

College football has been played in autumn for more than a century and a half, during pandemics (including the Spanish Flu, which killed 850,000 Americans of all ages), the First and Second World Wars, the Great Depression, and the weekend immediately following the events of September 11, 2001. Such incongruities give no pause to those who insist that the game can be suspended or moved to a different season.

Can it? I am afraid that I have always had a different understanding of the game, and of the season: "Even as are the generations of leaves, such are those also of men. As for the leaves, the wind scattereth some upon the earth."