BUENOS AIRES — People laid flowers and lit candles below the mural of Diego Maradona outside the stadium here that bears his name. A man cried inconsolably.
At the Obelisk in central Buenos Aires, another man waved a banner depicting Mr. Maradona that read, “God Is Argentine.”
There was a sense of incredulity in Argentina on Wednesday as word spread that the soccer star had died that morning at his home in Tigre, north of Buenos Aires. The government decreed three days of mourning.
Often called one of the game’s best players, Mr. Maradona was revered by his fellow Argentines — not just for his prowess on the field, but for his rise from poverty to global stardom. He stayed a national hero even as his personal life, which included long spates of drug and alcohol abuse, made him tabloid fodder around the world.
As people gathered across the country to honor the man often simply referred to “El Diego,” some chose the Buenos Aires stadium where he got his start in 1976, as a young player in the Argentinos Juniors club, and which was later renamed for him.
“The first time I saw him I couldn’t believe it,” said Hugo Daniel Santiuste, 66, who said he saw Mr. Maradona’s second-ever match at the stadium. “I had never seen anything like it.”
ImageCredit…Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
But even Argentines born too late to see him play in person were mourning.
“I feel like a member of my family just died,” said Joaquín López Castan, 19. “My entire life I wanted to play soccer like Maradona.”
Mr. Maradona underwent brain surgery earlier this month, and he had had numerous medical problems in the past. But his death, which a spokesman said was from a heart attack, still came as a shock to many.
“He was Maradona, he always managed to pull through,” said João Dejtiar, 19.
Several places around Buenos Aires became outdoor mourning spaces for fans, including the morgue where officials brought his body; his humble onetime home in Villa Fiorito, the impoverished area where he grew up; and La Bombonera stadium, where he once played as a member of the Boca Juniors club.
Hundreds also gathered in downtown Buenos Aires as the government planned what was expected to be a massive wake at the presidential palace on Thursday.
At 10 p.m., people applauded from their balconies in honor of Mr. Maradona, who wore the traditional No. 10 jersey of a playmaker.
ImageCredit…Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
As Wednesday turned into Thursday, people seemed in no hurry to get home. Hundreds chanted and sang songs for Mr. Maradona outside the presidential palace as some started to line up for the wake.
“Of course, Maradona was the greatest soccer player this country has ever seen, but that doesn’t tell the full story. There is something that makes him much more than that,” said Alejandro Wall, a sports journalist.
“Diego is the great narrator of Argentina,” he said.
Mr. Maradona is invariably remembered for leading Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup. In the infamous quarterfinal against England, he scored one of the most beautiful goals in the game’s history, as well as an illegal hand goal. (“It was scored a little bit with the head of Diego and a little with the hand of God,” he later said of that goal.)
The English were furious, but in Argentina — still suffering the humiliation of its 1982 defeat by Britain in the short war over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls Malvinas and claims as its own — Mr. Maradona was lauded.
“A narrative is created that the goal wasn’t illegal because in reality it was God doing justice after the defeat in the 1982 war,” said Lívia Gonçalves Magalhães, a historian at Federal Fluminense University in Brazil who studies the intersection of soccer and politics in South America.
ImageCredit…Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
“It was the happiest moment of my life,” said Juan José Azcurra, 67, his tears giving way to a smile as he recalled the goal. “I will never forget it.”
That World Cup was doubly sweet because “no one had faith in the team and in the end everything they did was marvelous,” said Veronica Moreira, an anthropologist who studies sport at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, an Argentine government agency. Argentina’s victory in the final against West Germany cemented Mr. Maradona’s position as the leader who took the underdog team to victory.
Beating the odds was a constant theme in Mr. Maradona’s life story. His rise from poverty was one reason that many Argentines continued to identify with him even as he became a world celebrity.
“He never stopped being part of the people,” said Gastón Tescusinsky, 44, who has a tattoo of Mr. Maradona on his arm. “He was always the kid from Fiorito.”
Mr. Maradona wore his leftist politics on his sleeve, and Ms. Magalhães noted that he would publicly criticize the leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, “without worrying about repercussions.”
ImageCredit…Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
“Maradona was a contradictory character who garnered a lot of empathy,” said Rodrigo Daskal, a professor who is a researcher at the Sports Study Center at the San Martín National University. “Maradona was always authentic and never tried to dress up any part of his life.”
Mr. Maradona’s candor about his struggles with alcohol and drugs was appreciated by many of his fans, especially those who had experience with addiction. “My old man had problems with drugs, who am I to judge Maradona?” said Pablo Neyret, 42, whose eyes welled up with tears.
Songs were written in Mr. Maradona’s honor, and some of his phrases entered Argentines’ everyday lexicon. One was “they cut off my legs,” which he said after being kicked out the 1994 World Cup for doping.
Victoria Fassa, 43, called Mr. Maradona “a rebel who was passionate above all else and said what he thought without caring about the consequences.”
She added, “He was 100 percent Argentine.”
Manuela Andreoni contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela.
Texans love to brag that everything is bigger in their state. The land, the food and, this year, the size of the crowds at Dallas Cowboys games.
The team’s five home games have drawn a total of 128,750 fans, by far the most of any N.F.L. team and nearly 20 percent of the entire league’s reported attendance. Tens of thousands more fans are expected to be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, when the Cowboys, as they have nearly every year since 1966, play at home on Thanksgiving, this time against the Washington Football Team.
To control the spread of the coronavirus, state rules limit attendance at the stadium to half its capacity of over 100,000, and no game has approached that limit. Still, attendance has grown every game, hitting a high of 31,700 on Nov. 8, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were in town. Jerry Jones, the team owner, plans to keep selling tickets even as the number of coronavirus infections surges in Tarrant County, where the Cowboys play home games.
“My plan was to increase our fans as we went through the season and move the number up, and we followed that plan,” Jones said last week on Dallas sports talk radio. “I see a continued aggressive approach to having fans out there. And that’s not being insensitive to the fact that we got our Covid and outbreak. Some people will say maybe it is, but not when you’re doing it as safe as we are and not when we’re having the results we’re having.”
Local and state authorities have ultimate authority over whether fans can attend games, and the rules in Texas are more permissive than in states like California and New Jersey, where teams have played without spectators this season.
But Jones’s “aggressive approach” runs counter not just to what other N.F.L. teams have done in recent weeks, but to what medical experts say is prudent public health. The number of cases in the county has jumped more than fivefold since the start of the regular season in early September, when there was an average of 1,500 confirmed infections a day. The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus has more than tripled over that period.
And last week, health officials in Tarrant County said that eight residents who tested positive for the virus told contact tracers that they had recently attended Cowboys home games. It is unclear whether they were infected before, during or after the games. The actual number may be higher because of how difficult it is for contact tracers to determine the source of an infection where the virus is spreading rapidly.
ImageCredit…David Berding/Associated Press
The increasing number of cases locally, coupled with more people indoors in the colder weather, prompted the Tarrant County health director, Dr. Vinny Taneja, to warn residents against attending large gatherings.
“Whether it’s a sporting event, whether it’s a demonstration or any other large public gathering, there’s always somebody there who has Covid,” Taneja said at a briefing last week. “No matter how hard you try, people are people. They’re there to celebrate, they’re there to have a good time. You’re going to have some spread occur.”
Some N.F.L. teams that had opened their gates to fans have reversed course as cases of the virus skyrocket. The Denver Broncos, for instance, got clearance in October from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to have around 5,700 spectators at Mile High Stadium, but the team said last week that rising cases in the area forced them to go back to playing home games without fans. Other teams like the Baltimore Ravens, facing a team-wide outbreak that shut down practices on Monday and Tuesday, stopped admitting fans altogether, at least temporarily.
Fourteen of the N.F.L.’s 32 teams, from the Buffalo Bills to Seattle Seahawks, have not had spectators this year. Another 10 teams have allowed no more than 10,000 fans at a game, and some have welcomed fans for only one or two games. The Houston Texans, who face similar capacity limits as the Cowboys and are subject to the same state orders, have averaged 12,400 fans at their games, half as many as there are at Cowboys games.
To determine whether to permit fans in the stadiums, the N.F.L.’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, said the league and its teams, along with local authorities and the league’s infectious disease consultants, review data on positivity rates, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and deaths from the virus in the regions where the teams play.
“We do that not just for Dallas,” Sills told reporters last week. “We try to look at the data in each point in time and make what we think is the safest decision. That’s a collaborative decision that’s not made strictly by us in the central New York office.”
But absent any prohibition from a local government, the decision ultimately rests with team owners.
ImageCredit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Jones said his team has taken steps to reduce the chance of infection. The air conditioning in AT&T Stadium, which is domed, pulls in fresh air from outside and all air filters in the stadium were replaced and upgraded before the season. The giant doors behind the end zones have been open every game so a breeze can blow through. The retractable roof has been open the past two games and will be open on Thursday.
Similar to measures other teams have been taking to minimize contact, fans in Dallas must sit in small groups, or pods, with friends and family, and wear masks except when eating or drinking. Concession stands no longer accept cash and paper tickets have been eliminated. Cars parked in lots designated for tailgating must have an empty space on either side, and parties should not commingle.
But the team has not set a limit on attendance as long as it doesn’t exceed 50 percent of the stadium’s capacity, and the number of fans at each game depends on how many season ticket holders decide to come and how many single-game tickets are purchased.
Dr. Sonja Bartolome, a critical care doctor and an infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, called attending games in large stadiums a medium risk relative to the parties, weddings and funerals in indoor venues to which she has traced positive cases. “We’re lucky the stadium is huge because it allows them to put people at a safer distance and there’s a lot of air circulation,” she said.
Still, with another 17,000 projected deaths among Texans between now and March 1, other experts were more skeptical.
“Maybe they’re not looking down the line enough and not understanding what’s in store for Dallas,” Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, said of the Cowboys. “If they were, they’d stop it because it’s going to get a lot worse. I understand football is like religion, but this is not the time to be having fans at games.”
Last summer, while reading a list of Louisiana’s top college football recruiting prospects, Archie Manning noticed that only one of the high school players did not have a Twitter account. It happened to be his grandson and namesake Arch, a nephew of Peyton and Eli.
“I was kind of proud of that,” the elder Manning said in a telephone interview.
At 16, Archibald Charles Manning is a 6-foot-3 ½ inch, 198-pound sophomore at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, the latest flowering branch on the family quarterback tree and potentially the third generation of the Manning family to play in the N.F.L. As such, he is being nurtured and protected by relatives who fully understand — and have the experience and the means to address — the possibilities and hazards of fame and expectation.
In a rapacious social media age and a hothouse recruiting era when players are sometimes offered college scholarships in the eighth grade, Cooper Manning, Arch’s father and Peyton’s and Eli’s older brother, said, “I’m doing my best to keep it all in check and let him be a normal kid.”
A season ago, when Arch became Newman’s starting quarterback as a freshman — something neither of his uncles had done — he was named by MaxPreps, a leading high school sports website, as the national freshman of the year after completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,408 yards and 34 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
He is ranked as the top quarterback for the 2023 recruiting class. On Nov. 13, Manning threw five touchdown passes in the first quarter of a homecoming rout. But he is still learning to navigate the intense anticipation of stardom and scrutiny of his performance fostered by his family name. After throwing three interceptions in last week’s regular-season finale, he seemed downcast even though his team won, 31-8, and remained undefeated.
Despite that disappointment, Newman (8-0) prepares to enter Louisiana’s playoffs next week as the No. 1 seed in its division. Manning will attempt to lead the Greenies to their first state football championship at the Superdome, the building where his grandfather threw touchdown passes for the New Orleans Saints 40 years ago.
ImageCredit…Leslie Gamboni for The New York Times
“He’s worth the price of admission,” said Lyle Fitte, the coach at South Plaquemines High School in Buras, La., Newman’s final regular-season opponent. “He displays the characteristics of a college quarterback now. Pocket presence, keeping his eyes downfield, going through his reads, even-keeled. He’s very mobile, can throw on the run. I think he’s better than his uncles were at this point. He’s learned from the best, for sure.”
The curly-haired Arch also seems to possess the family’s easy humor. Last summer, he told a television reporter that, with his uncles retired, he gives as good as he gets as far as needling. When they call him skinny and ask how much he can bench press, he asks how fast they can run the 40-yard dash. “They won’t talk,” he said, laughing.
Arch fully understands the recruiting process and his standing in it, his grandfather said. But the Mannings have pumped the brakes on comparisons to his Hall-of-Fame caliber family members. And they have been cautious in keeping their emerging star from racing full speed into the world of sports celebrity and breathless recruiting speculation.
As a freshman, Arch did not give interviews and avoided social media. The family declined all scholarship offers. This year, Arch has spoken with college coaches, but the N.C.A.A.’s coronavirus restrictions have prohibited them from Isidore Newman’s campus and games.
In mid-October, he completed 21 of 26 passes for one touchdown, and rushed for two more, in a game before a national TV audience. A YouTube highlight video titled “The Next Manning” had been viewed nearly three million times through late November. A filmmaker has documented his career since he was in the seventh grade. Arch has usually accommodated local reporters after games this season but was not made available by his father over the phone for this article. Arch unfailingly credits his teammates in interviews, though he is said to find the ceaseless spotlight a bit silly. And he still scrambles away from social media.
“People are too early to crown you and condemn you,” his father Cooper, a real estate executive, said.
ImageCredit…Leslie Gamboni for The New York Times
Cooper Manning, 46, started on a state championship basketball team at Newman and was an all-state receiver whose football career ended at the University of Mississippi just as it began. In 1992, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that can cause numbness and muscle weakness.
He is happy to talk about his daughter, May, 17, who was recently named the most valuable player as her team won a state volleyball championship at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans. And how his wife, Ellen, achieved similar acclaim when she attended Sacred Heart. And how his youngest son, Heid, a freshman at Newman, soon to be 15, could become the Greenies’ starting center next season, snapping the ball to his brother.
But he is reluctant to say much about Arch, not wanting his eldest son to be swamped in a tidal wave of attention and the ruthless, scraping undertow of Twitter and Instagram.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” he said.
Given familial and geographic connections to the Mannings, colleges including Mississippi (Archie, Cooper and Eli’s alma mater), Tennessee (Peyton’s), Duke (where David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton and Eli in college, runs the program), and Louisiana State, Alabama, Georgia and Texas have been speculated as potential landing spots for Arch. “I don’t think M.I.T. is calling anytime soon,” his father said in a radio interview last summer, swiping at the panting conjecture that accompanies football recruiting in the South.
“The Manning way is to empower the young man to figure out what’s important to him and let him make his own decision,” Cutcliffe said.
ImageCredit…Leslie Gamboni for The New York Times
For Archie Manning, a cautionary moment occurred in 2014, when L.S.U. received a scholarship commitment from an eighth-grade quarterback from Texas named Zadock Dinkelmann. Like Arch Manning, Dinkelmann has two uncles who played in the N.F.L. — Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner from Brigham Young, and his brother Koy.
But it is impossible to know whether an eighth grader will bloom into a college star. For Arch Manning, his grandfather said, seriously contemplating early scholarship offers is “not part of the process right now.”
Dinkelmann entered a junior college, not L.S.U., after high school. His planned college path detoured several times because of head coach firings. He is now at Texas A&M-Kingsville, hoping to take his first snap at the Division II school in March after its fall season was scrubbed by the pandemic.
Dinkelmann, 21, said he had enjoyed the recruiting process and offered Arch Manning the same advice that his father and uncles offered him: Be a high school athlete first. Take your time. Have fun visiting stadiums, meeting coaches. The right decision will become obvious.
“Don’t worry about them liking you; it’s about you liking them,” Dinkelmann said.
Since he was in junior high school, Arch Manning has worked at times with a quarterback coach named David Morris, who was Eli’s backup at Ole Miss. And when Arch’s uncles visit New Orleans or gather at the annual Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., they also offer advice. Each was a first overall pick in the N.F.L. draft and won two Super Bowls. Each has helped Arch with his footwork and drop-back technique and his polished release. Peyton has infused him with the importance of a commanding presence. But they are his uncles, not his coaches.
“They don’t try to be his mentor; they don’t grade his film,” Archie Manning said.
ImageCredit…Leslie Gamboni for The New York Times
Arch’s closest bond with a legendary quarterback appears to be with his grandfather. It is hard to overstate what a folk hero Archie Manning was 50 years ago at Ole Miss, where the campus speed limit was set at 18 miles an hour to honor his jersey number. Or how he gamely endured a decade without a winning season on the New Orleans Saints, becoming a two-time Pro Bowler who got sacked 337 times while fans in the early 1980s began wearing bags on their heads and the Saints became the ‘Aints.
Arch calls his grandfather “Red,” though, at 71, Archie’s shock of red hair has thinned and gone gray. At age 20, Archie lost his own father to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which perhaps helps to explain why he has been closely involved in his sons’ lives and the lives of his nine grandchildren. Each day, Arch has said, Archie sends a motivational text message. And on game days, grandfather types a simple affirmation: “Have fun.”
Archie attends most Newman games. During the pandemic, he has sometimes watched practice from his car. When access to gyms, school facilities and parks in New Orleans was restricted, Archie’s home in the Garden District became a place for Arch to workout.
“I think I’m the most like my grandfather the way I play,” Arch told an interviewer before the season began. “He could scramble around, stretch the field.”
Like his father and his uncles, Arch skipped Pop Warner football. (“I don’t think it’s necessary to put shoulder pads and helmets on a fourth grader or fifth grader,” Archie Manning said.) Instead, Arch played flag football until the sixth grade. It shows in the way he darts and changes direction and throws across his body, extending plays as his grandfather once did — running in beautiful escape at Ole Miss, running for his life with the Saints.
Arch has completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown for 19 touchdowns this season, while also leading Newman with eight rushing touchdowns.
“I see little sprinkles of everybody in the family, but he’s his own entity,” said Nelson Stewart, Newman’s football coach and a former teammate of Peyton’s and Cooper’s at the school. “I focus on the Arch, not the Manning.”
Still, some Manning traits, especially meticulousness, apply to all of them. Arch collaborates with his coach in scripting the opening plays for each game. When the pandemic limited school workouts for months, Stewart and Arch reviewed every play from his freshman season on video conference calls. Some lasted an hour and a half.
“At the end,” Stewart said, “he was almost completing my sentences.”
ImageCredit…Leslie Gamboni for The New York Times
The first College Football Playoff rankings for this pandemic-disrupted season were revealed Tuesday. Then came all sorts of righteous and ritualistic self-regard and fury. The coming days will bring games that will feed the cycle.
But that cycle — a staple of a sport that has thrilled generations of fans with weekly offerings of the predictable and the downright ridiculous — is more fragile than ever because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Win out” may not prove a surefire route to a berth in semifinals at the Sugar Bowl or the Rose Bowl. Games could vanish from the schedule with only hours of warning, new matchups might be added, and postponed showdowns might be resurrected. A team might miss a chance to play for a conference title because of a viral outbreak.
If the season lasts, the final rankings are expected on Dec. 20, soon after many top teams play for league championships and just a year after a Playoff slate that drew few complaints.
In the meantime, that sound you hear, besides some cousin’s bumbling over a video chat or the smoke detector announcing that the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes are burning, may just be the birthright bickering of college football fans. Here are the top teams they’re arguing over because, well, not everything is different in 2020.
No. 1 Alabama (7-0)
ImageCredit…Gary Cosby Jr/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Remaining games: No. 22 Auburn, at Arkansas
Nick Saban needs one more national championship at Alabama to equal Bear Bryant’s six titles with the Crimson Tide. Saban, for years one of the country’s finest defensive minds, has a path to it this season with the best scoring offense in the Power 5 leagues and third over all. Quarterback Mac Jones has entered the mix in the race for the Heisman Trophy, and Najee Harris is a human highlight reel of a tailback. But never sleep on the Iron Bowl game against Auburn, planned for Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Saban, however, will not be on the sideline: On Wednesday, Alabama said Saban, 69, had tested positive for the virus.
No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0)
ImageCredit…Pool photo by Matt Cashore
Remaining games: at No. 19 North Carolina, Syracuse, at Wake Forest
The Fighting Irish, who are playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, cleared their biggest test of the regular season this month when they defeated an undermanned Clemson. Keep an eye on Kyren Williams, the sophomore running back, especially on Friday when Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and North Carolina’s Mack Brown will face each other for the first time. And remember that Notre Dame’s dealings with Clemson may not be over: The Tigers just might be waiting for the Irish in the A.C.C. championship game.
No. 3 Clemson (7-1)
ImageCredit…Ken Ruinard/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Remaining games: Pittsburgh, at Virginia Tech
No matter what the Clemson faithful may claim, no serious person ignores or disrespects a program that has reached the national championship game in four of the last five seasons. This year, Travis Etienne became the A.C.C.’s career rushing leader, and Clemson nearly beat Notre Dame, even when Trevor Lawrence, its star quarterback, was sidelined after a brush with the virus. The defense is allowing about 305 yards a game, far better than some top teams, like Alabama and Georgia, with defensive-minded coaches at the top. Coach Dabo Swinney is sometimes the subject of harsh criticism — he drew ire this week for his remarks after Florida State refused to play Clemson because of virus concerns — but he has proved more than able to direct his team on the biggest stages.
No. 4 Ohio State (4-0)
ImageCredit…Joseph Maiorana/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Remaining games: at Illinois, at Michigan State, Michigan
Ohio State wanted to play this fall and with good football reason. After narrowly missing out on an appearance in last season’s national championship game, the Buckeyes are positioned to make it through the regular season undefeated: Their remaining opponents have a collective record of 5-9. Indiana tested Ohio State’s passing defense last weekend, but Justin Fields directs the best offense in the Big Ten and has one of the highest quarterback ratings in the country.
No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1)
ImageCredit…Sam Craft/Associated Press
Remaining games: Louisiana State, at No. 22 Auburn, at Tennessee
Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team could have been left for dead after Alabama walloped the Aggies, 52-24, in October. Then Texas A&M upset Florida, beat Mississippi State and Arkansas and humiliated South Carolina. The question for Texas A&M is whether two virus-related postponements after that run will upend its momentum when it hosts Louisiana State this weekend. Isaiah Spiller has rushed for 643 yards this season, placing him among the country’s elite, and the Aggies’ defense is surrendering the fewest yards of any team in the Southeastern Conference.
No. 6 Florida (6-1)
ImageCredit…Brad Mcclenny/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Remaining games: Kentucky, at Tennessee, L.S.U.
A coronavirus outbreak slowed the Gators but did not stop them, mostly because Kyle Trask has continued his blossoming into a star at quarterback. Injuries cost him games early in his career, but he took over the Florida offense last season after Feleipe Franks, now at Arkansas, was hurt and eventually led the team to a victory in the Orange Bowl. So far this season, Trask tops the country with 31 passing touchdowns. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney has more catches than any other Gator, but Kyle Pitts, a tight end, is making the most of his 24 receptions and averaging about 17 yards per catch. And Florida has already crushed Georgia, its nearest rival in the SEC’s East Division.
No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0)
ImageCredit…Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Remaining game: at No. 25 Tulsa
No team from outside a Power 5 league has ever earned such a high playoff ranking. Now Cincinnati, a member of the American Athletic Conference, has a viable chance of reaching the semifinals, having impressed the committee with its national rankings in scoring offense and scoring defense. Desmond Ridder, the quarterback, has been the conference’s offensive player of the week in four of the last five weeks, helped by an offensive line that has given up only nine sacks. (Alabama, by contrast, has surrendered 11.) But in a reminder of how chaotic this season is, Cincinnati announced Wednesday morning that this weekend’s game at Temple had been canceled because of the pandemic.
No. 8 Northwestern (5-0)
ImageCredit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Remaining games: at Michigan State, at Minnesota, Illinois
Talk about a team that has come back from last year. The Wildcats, who went 3-9 in 2019, have been perfect but not dominant. Their wins have rarely been blowouts — only one, a 43-3 pummeling of Maryland on Oct. 24, was by more than 10 points — but Northwestern has already beaten Wisconsin, the preseason favorite in the Big Ten’s West Division. The Northwestern defense, which made life miserable for Wisconsin when the Badgers were on third down, has been the difference, allowing fewer than 13 points a game. Brandon Joseph, a defensive back from College Station, Texas, has five interceptions, the most in the Power 5.
No. 9 Georgia (5-2)
ImageCredit…Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Remaining games: at South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Georgia has two losses, but they were to Alabama and Florida. The trouble for the Bulldogs is that Florida has to stumble for them to reach the SEC’s championship game, and the Gators don’t exactly have a frightening schedule. Whether Georgia can get something going partly hinges on JT Daniels, a redshirt sophomore quarterback who only last week made his first start as a Bulldog. It went well — he threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns — but Georgia still beat Mississippi State (2-5) by only a touchdown.
No. 10 Miami (7-1)
ImageCredit…Al Diaz/Miami Herald, via Associated Press
Remaining games: at Wake Forest, No. 19 North Carolina, Georgia Tech
Much like Northwestern, Miami has rebounded after a disappointing 2019 in which the Hurricanes, a great national power of decades past, posted a 6-7 record. D’Eriq King, a redshirt senior playing his first season at Miami, has passed for 2,086 yards and 17 touchdowns. But Miami had toggled between huge wins — think a 52-10 rout of Florida State — and narrower margins, like a 25-24 win over Virginia Tech.
Odds and ends
No. 11 Oklahoma (6-2) is the highest-ranked Big 12 team. The Sooners reached the Playoff last year, only to lose handily to L.S.U. in the Peach Bowl. They do not have any ranked opponents remaining.
No. 14 Brigham Young, an independent in football, is 9-0. But the selection committee appears worried about the strength of the Cougars’ schedule. Their best win so far, according to Gary Barta, Iowa’s athletic director and the chairman of the selection committee, was a 51-17 victory over Boise State.
The Pac-12 has not reached the Playoff since the 2016 season, when Washington was ranked No. 4. The first rankings were not particularly kind to the Pac-12 — Oregon, at No. 15, had the league’s best showing — but the conference started its season later than others.
Nick Saban, top-ranked Alabama’s football coach, has tested positive for coronavirus, university officials said Wednesday.
Saban tested positive for the virus in October, but doctors concluded within days that the initial test had been inaccurate. On Wednesday, though, Alabama said he had “very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a potential false positive.”
The result means that Saban will miss Saturday’s rivalry game against No. 22 Auburn.
“We hate it that this situation occurred, but as I said many times before, you’ve got to be able to deal with disruptions this year,” Saban said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning. He said he did not “really have any cardinal signs of the virus right now.”
He acknowledged, though, that he had a runny nose.
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama’s offensive coordinator, will lead the team in Saban’s absence.
FIFA on Monday barred the top official in African soccer from the sport for five years, upending the leadership of one of its six regional confederations only months before a presidential election and offering a new reminder that corruption continues to plague global soccer even at its most senior levels.
The punishment of the official, Ahmad Ahmad, who had been the president of the Confederation of African Football and a FIFA vice president since 2017, was related to his conduct from 2017 to 2019, according to a statement released by FIFA’s ethics body. Ahmad was found guilty of breaching four separate articles of the organization’s ethics code, its statement said, including abuse of office, misappropriation of funds and rules concerning the offering and acceptance of gifts.
His ban will disqualify him from standing for a new term early next year, but Ahmad escaped with a shorter ban than another African official who was deemed to have violated one of the same rules.
The decision was announced more than a year after FIFA received complaints of wrongdoing by Ahmad, and 17 months after he was arrested and questioned by French investigators about corruption allegations related to an apparel contract. In its statement, FIFA said part of its investigation into Ahmad’s conduct in office was linked to that deal. Ethics investigators also looked into the financing of a pilgrimage trip for a number of African officials to the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca.
Ahmad’s ban means five of FIFA’s six global confederations have had to replace leaders accused of ethical violations since 2015, when a sprawling U.S. Department of Justice indictment revealed widespread corruption in the Americas and the Caribbean. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, swept to power a year later, pledging to rid the organization of the culture of corruption that had stained its image and brought down his predecessor.
Ahmad had been one of the new breed of leaders that arrived in the wake of the scandals. With the backing of Infantino, who spent significant political capital lobbying on behalf of the then little known politician from a soccer backwater, Madagascar, Ahmad ousted Issa Hayatou, a towering figure in African soccer who had ruled the sport on the continent — and wielded great influence as a top FIFA executive — for more than two decades.
But under Ahmad’s leadership, CAF soon plunged into regular bouts of chaos and infighting. The problems peaked in 2019 when Ahmad fired the organization’s most senior administrator, the secretary general Amr Fahmy, and other top executives. Fahmy, who died of cancer this year, was among the officials who had provided FIFA with evidence against Ahmad; the accusations included not only financial misdeeds but claims of sexual harassment made by female staff members and consultants.
Ahmad called the allegations an effort to smear his reputation, and later denied wrongdoing in the French corruption investigation.
Ahmad did not respond to a request for a comment about his ban, which he can appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He is currently on medical leave after contracting the coronavirus.
Ahmad’s departure leaves four candidates to replace him when CAF holds its presidential elections on March 12. Until then, the organization will be run by its senior vice president, Constant Omari of Congo, who faces his own ethics investigation over a television deal that he and Ahmad revised in a way that appeared to have benefited CAF’s broadcast partners at a cost of millions of dollars to African soccer.
Ahmad is also implicated in that investigation and could face further penalties as a result. In addition to his five-year ban, FIFA also fined Ahmed about $220,000.
FIFA ethics investigators are also looking into the conduct of other African officials. Leaked emails and documents have shown how some regional soccer leaders sought to receive payments from CAF to be routed into their private bank accounts instead of through their federations, and an audit completed earlier this year could not account for millions of dollars in development funds.
The 55-page report, completed by consultants from PwC, said “potential elements of mismanagement and possible abuse of power were found in key areas of finance and operations.” It provided yet another reminder of the challenges of reforming the governance of world soccer, which was rocked in 2015 when the United States filed a sweeping indictment that laid out in vivid detail accusations of decades of corruption and wrongdoing by some of the sport’s most senior administrators.
As the leadership crisis in Africa worsened last year, FIFA took the extraordinary step of effectively taking temporary charge of CAF’s management. It sent Fatma Samoura, its secretary general and Infantino’s top deputy, to supervise the organization’s operations at its headquarters in Cairo. That relationship ended abruptly in February, when CAF’s leadership opted against extending FIFA’s presence.
For Infantino, the ban of Ahmad, his onetime ally, is embarrassing, but it also presents an opportunity to find a new and reliable partner in Africa, a region that he has aggressively tried to cultivate.
As well as dispatching Samoura to CAF, he also sent Mario Gallavotti, one of his most trusted advisers, to help restructure operations and plot a path for further development. Last December, Infantino floated the idea of a new 20-team Pan-African club tournament that he said could generate as much as $200 million in annual revenue, a sum that he argued might allow some of Africa’s top clubs to keep top talent in the region. Those plans have appeared to have stalled since CAF told FIFA’s emissaries to leave and the coronavirus crippled global sports.
At Colorado, the Thanksgiving meal for football players, a ritual since at least the mid-1990s, will not happen. Ohio State’s seniors will miss out on a tradition of Thanksgiving practice. At Virginia, any players who attend a large Thanksgiving gathering could have to quarantine.
College football players across the country are accustomed to playing and practicing through Thanksgiving. But as with everything else during this season like no other, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing some teams to make changes large and small to their well-honed routines.
Public officials are warning this holiday that a potentially lethal combination of widespread travel and large indoor gatherings will rapidly increase the already surging spread of the virus. University administrators are scrambling to offer guidance to students.
John Thrasher, the president of Florida State University, is asking students not to return to campus if they leave for the holiday.
“Students, if you go home for the Thanksgiving break, please stay there until the start of the spring semester,” he wrote in a campuswide email last week. Florida State has two weeks remaining in the semester after Thanksgiving — two weeks Thrasher would prefer those students complete from home.
But his email does not apply to the Seminoles, Florida State’s 2-6 football team, who postponed last weekend’s game against Clemson over virus-related concerns. They face Virginia on Saturday.
“Our team will stay here in Tallahassee and practice before traveling on Friday,” a Florida State spokesman, Robert Wilson, said in an email.
Practicing during Thanksgiving week is typically one of the nuisances of being a college football player, a sacrifice made each autumn often in service of rivalry games. This season, however, skipping past Thanksgiving might be a saving grace for college football, which has already had more than 90 games canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus.
The New York Times contacted all 65 football programs in the Power 5 conferences — the Atlantic Coast (which includes Notre Dame this fall), the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Southeastern — to ask how they were handling Thanksgiving this season. Among the 47 that responded, the answers were quite similar: They are mostly treating this week like any other coronavirus-inflected week.
The University of Illinois doesn’t have classes during Thanksgiving week, but it is an otherwise normal week for the Fighting Illini, who will host the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. Players will be tested for the virus between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Thursday, practice at 8 a.m. and have a team Thanksgiving meal at 11 a.m., according to Kent Brown, an associate athletic director.
“The schedule isn’t much different than past seasons, although players were able to leave campus to gather for Thanksgiving at a local team member or coach’s house for Thanksgiving before reporting back Friday morning,” Brown said. “But in the past, players never had to test for Covid every morning.”
Colorado has had a game the weekend after Thanksgiving every year since 1996, when the Big 8 became the Big 12. There is traditionally a Thanksgiving meal for players and staff members, but it will be scrapped this year, said David Plati, an associate athletic director at Colorado. The team has dispensed with all communal meals this year.
“The team hasn’t even eaten a meal together — everything has been grab-and-go, even on the one road trip,” Plati said. Active players also have not been allowed to go home since training camp began on Oct. 9.
At Ohio State, adapting to the pandemic means postponing a beloved Thanksgiving rite.
The Buckeyes typically have their final regular-season practice on the morning of the holiday. After that weekend’s game, at least in an ordinary year, the only games left are the Big Ten championship (if they qualify, which they have in each of the last three seasons) and at least one bowl game. The Thanksgiving practice usually concludes with Senior Tackle, when each senior addresses the team and then hits a blocking sled or tackling dummy one final time.
Afterward, players who live in or near Columbus can take some teammates home for Thanksgiving, while others have their own families in town or go to a coach’s house.
“This year, however, no one will be going home for Thanksgiving and the team will dine together on Thursday,” Jerry Emig, an associate athletic director, wrote in an email. “Senior Tackle won’t take place until later. We fly to Illinois Friday afternoon.”
Schools During Coronavirus ›
Back to School
Updated Nov. 23, 2020
The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.
After a “covid semester,” the University of Michigan is drastically shifting its approach to virus control.When New York City public schools reopen, about 700,000 students won’t be there.How risky are indoor youth sports like basketball and hockey? Parents are agonizing over whether to enroll their kids.As winter looms, outdoor schools face tough decisions.
Most schools said they did not give their players any specific guidance for Thanksgiving, relying on the messages they have conveyed for months. That message, as John Bianco, an associate athletic director at Texas, put it: “They’re constantly reminded by our team medical personnel and coaches to always wear a mask, wash hands, stay at a safe distance and to not be in any large crowds.”
One of the few schools that did give players Thanksgiving travel guidance was Virginia, which updated the travel policy sent to all athletes in October, said Jim Daves, an assistant athletic director.
If a player has a Thanksgiving meal in a hotel with family members without social distancing? He will have to quarantine. If the gathering is small, with mask wearing and social distancing? No quarantining necessary. If a player visits home for just a day and social distancing is followed? No quarantine. But if he somehow finds enough time to go home for more than one day? Quarantine.
Travel- and family-related peril has been ever-present this season. With shorter schedules because of fewer, or no, nonconference games and some leagues starting the season late, as well as unexpected open weekends after games were postponed or canceled, athletic departments have fretted over off-days all season long.
“Quite frankly, it was more of a concern a few weeks ago when we had an open week and the players had several days off,” said Steve Fink, an assistant athletic director at South Carolina.
The coronavirus will threaten the season right until the end. The number of cases is spiking nationwide, and the virus has already killed more than 257,000 people in the United States. If the worst fears of public health officials are borne out, those numbers will only accelerate in December, when players are practicing for the extremely lucrative bowl games but also have unusual amounts of free time.
“Who knows what will happen with any type of bowl game events?” said Steve Roe, an assistant athletic director at Iowa.
Some bowl games have already been canceled. But on Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff’s selection committee released its first rankings of the season. Its semifinal matchups are scheduled for Jan. 1, and the national championship game is planned for Jan. 11.
Devoted skiers and snowboarders recognize the plum benefits of below-the-radar ski resorts: fewer fellow powder seekers, shorter lift lines, relatively reasonably priced tickets and lodging, and, often, limited distractions from time spent on the slopes. Now, especially, these qualities hold even broader appeal, as skiers look to limit contact with others while spending more time outdoors.
At these seven resorts across the country, you’re less apt to jostle other parka-clad elbows while still enjoying a variety of terrain; plus, you can buy individual tickets — some areas require online advance purchase at least 24 hours ahead — at relatively good value.
Off-slope, you won’t find the wealth of other amenities or activities that may attract skiers in a regular winter, but if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s how to avoid crowds and hang with the family. This is the winter to heat up a pot of fondue in the rental condo and play a board game by the fireplace.
Ragged Mountain Resort
ImageCredit…Kyle Matzke/Ragged Mountain
Want to pick up skiing this winter? Low-key Ragged is a perfect place to learn; the resort offers a free three-day program for first-time skiers or snowboarders, which culminates in a discounted season pass option ($69) and reduced-price ($29) additional lessons. This season, class size will be limited to five students per instructor.
In addition to gentle beginner terrain, the compact resort’s 250 acres feature the type of old-school trails — narrow, serpentine routes down the fall line — that once defined New England skiing. One of six lifts at the ski area, New Hampshire’s only six-pack whisks riders up one of the two peaks, so lines move quickly, and snow-making on 87 percent of the mountain ensures solid coverage.
Lodge slopeside in the Cardigan Cabins (rates start at $498 for two nights) or five minutes away at the historic New Hampshire Mountain Inn (doubles from $170).
Access: A five-hour drive from New York City
Anticipated opening: To be announced
Good to know this winter: Check New Hampshire’s updated travel information, which currently requires a 14-day quarantine for visitors from beyond other New England states. Lift tickets ($78 to $89) must be purchased online in advance. The learn-to-ski program will be offered Monday to Thursday only. Base lodges will operate at 50 percent capacity, with 30-minute time limits for guests.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
ImageCredit…Whitefish Mountain Resort
This large, but laid-back, ski area in far northwest Montana offers 3,000 acres of powder-filled glades, silky groomers and superlative steeps that spill off all sides of the mountain’s cone-shaped summit — plus, the distinctive rime-coated trees dubbed “snow ghosts” that add an otherworldly touch to the mountain’s upper reaches. This season, two new intermediate trails and more glading bolster the appeal of the resort’s traditionally expert Hellroaring Basin area. Fifteen minutes away, the railroad and ranching town of Whitefish offers additional lodging and restaurants amid a hip, outdoorsy vibe. For even more distancing, Glacier National Park, 25 miles from Whitefish, offers cross-country ski and snowshoe trails for D.I.Y. or guided adventures.
Anticipated opening: Dec. 10
Access: Glacier Park International Airport, 15 minutes from town
Good to know this winter: No restrictions on lift ticket sales, including daily passes ($85, with up to 25 percent off for multiday tickets bought at least 48 hours in advance online). On-mountain restaurants and bars will operate at 75 percent capacity, with 45-minute time limits for guests.
Encompassing three peaks and 300 acres, this family-run classic features the highest base elevation of any Vermont ski area, some of the state’s heaviest snowfall, and ample tree skiing — from spaced-out glades perfect for intermediates to tighter stands for experts — among its 71 trails. Night skiing five times a week affords views of the vivid sunsets over Lake Champlain to the west. Bolton has also earned a reputation for thousands of acres of stellar backcountry skiing adjacent to the ski area; a popular instructional program offers clinics and guided tours with lift-assisted access and specialized gear rentals. What’s more, the resort’s Nordic center has 100 kilometers of groomed and ungroomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.
Anticipated opening: Dec. 3
Access: Burlington International Airport, 30 minutes away, or a nearly six-hour drive from New York City
Good to know this winter: Check Vermont’s updated cross-state travel information. Currently, out-of-state visitors must quarantine for 14 days, or for seven days if followed by a negative coronavirus test. Daily lift ticket sales ($30 to $100) will be restricted and may sell out on peak days. Kids’ ski school lessons will start at age 7.
ImageCredit…Casey Day/Monarch Mountain
For more than 80 years, this central Colorado ski area along the Continental Divide has drawn powderhounds. Its fairly modest size — 800 acres and a 1,100-foot vertical drop — is counterbalanced by 350 inches of average annual snowfall that can stay untracked for several days past a storm, plus guided snowcat skiing on 1,600 additional acres of advanced terrain. Experts also love the hike-to, backcountry-style runs in Mirkwood Basin. Recent required thinning of pine-beetle-stricken trees has opened up more gladed skiing across the mountain. (Denver-based Meier Skis sells custom Monarch models using some of that harvested wood.) Many guests opt to stay in the artsy, riverside town of Salida, 20 miles east.
Anticipated opening: To be announced
Access: Montrose Regional Airport, two hours away, or Denver International Airport, three hours away
Good to know this winter: Daily lift tickets ($99, with up to 40 percent off multiday tickets bought in advance) must be purchased online before arrival for weekends and holiday periods. Only one party at a time can book a snowcat trip ($3,600), with a maximum of six skiers (two cats will run on many weekends).
Brian Head Resort
ImageCredit…Brian Head Resort
For scenery alone, this ski area on the edge of the Mojave Desert, far south of Utah’s better-known resorts, is worth a trip. Surrounding red-rock cliffs, including Cedar Breaks National Monument two miles to the south, provide a stunning backdrop to pristine powder that accumulates from both northern and southern storm tracks. With a base elevation of 9,600 feet, that snow stays light and dry on the resort’s 71 runs across two peaks, one draped with gentle cruisers, the other with advanced to expert runs. Bonus: Bryce Canyon National Park is within an hour’s drive, and Zion National Park an hour and a half — winter is a great time to visit these normally crowded destinations.
Anticipated opening: open
Access: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, three hours away
Good to know this winter: No restrictions on lift ticket sales, including daily passes ($89, with discounts of more than 40 percent for advanced purchase online), or group lessons ($100 to $175 with five-day or more advance booking). The two base-lodge restaurants will operate at 50 percent capacity.
ImageCredit…Sugar Bowl Resort
As Ikon and Epic passholders beeline past to other Tahoe-area resorts, a loyal Bay Area clientele veers off at Sugar Bowl atop Donner Summit, which relishes its independent ownership and attendant lack of crowding, as well as some of California’s deepest snowfall — 500 inches annually on average. Founded in 1939 (with the state’s first chairlift), the resort now offers modern amenities like five high-speed quads amid a backdrop of retro charm, including a small mid-mountain hotel reachable by gondola. The high-alpine terrain — 1,600 acres strung across four peaks — includes steeps on par with Tahoe’s best. Plus, the resort-owned Royal Gorge Nordic Center, North America’s largest cross-country area, has 140 kilometers of trails that start at the base of Sugar Bowl.
Anticipated opening: Nov. 27
Access: Reno Airport, one hour away, or San Francisco or Oakland International Airports, 3.25 hours away
Good to know this winter: Season pass sales were curtailed early to limit traffic on the slopes while still allowing space for day skiers; a limited quantity of daily lift tickets (from $125), plus rentals ($49) and lessons (private only this season; $95 per hour, per person) must be purchased in advance online, at least three days before arrival for the latter two. The mid-mountain hotel (doubles from $169) will be open Thursday to Sunday nights only. All dining will be outdoors only, but on-mountain restaurants will be open for guests to warm up (in 15-minute increments when busy).
Schweitzer Mountain Resort
ImageCredit…Schweitzer Mountain Resort
The state’s largest ski area, on 2,900 acres in northwest Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains, offers a buffet of terrain across two massive bowls — quad-burning groomers, well-pitched glades, plummeting chutes and more — plus summit-top views into three states and Canada. Better yet, powder stashes can last for days. Last winter two new lifts and seven new trails improved access and added intermediate runs in Outback Bowl.
Lodge slopeside in condos or stay in the vibrant, creative town of Sandpoint on Lake Pend Oreille, 11 miles away; next winter a 30-room boutique hotel will open on the mountain. The resort also operates 32 kilometers of Nordic trails, while outfitter Selkirk Powder offers guided snowcat skiing in a huge drainage on Schweitzer’s backside.
Anticipated opening: Nov. 27
Access: Spokane International Airport, 1.5 hours away
Good to know this winter: Daily lift tickets will be available through lodging packages at the mountain; otherwise, reserve them online ($89 to $95).
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In non-pandemic times, the men’s college basketball season would announce its arrival by poking up from under the college football blanket with familiar look-at-me events — a Madison Square Garden doubleheader here, a Maui Invitational there.
This year is understandably quite different.
The tub-thumping games will be in a Connecticut casino and the Dakota hinterlands, and the usual slow roll to the start of the season — which was kicked back two weeks — looks more like a release-the-hounds opening with over 100 games scheduled to be played on Wednesday.
Not that such exuberance counts for much in a pandemic, which has been busy offering a back-in-your-place back of the hand to those who figured the show could — or must — go on amid another wave of the coronavirus. There has been a daily average of more than 173,000 new cases over the past week in the United States, and the college basketball world has not been immune.
Take Monday, for example. In a matter of hours, Tennessee canceled two games after Coach Rick Barnes and others tested positive for the virus; Duke and Georgia quashed games against Gardner-Webb after the team reported a case; the powerhouse Connecticut women’s team postponed its first four games and suspended all activities because of a positive virus test; Mississippi canceled a four-team event on its campus; and Utah called off its opening game after Coach Larry Krystkowiak, speaking from an apartment above his garage on a weekly radio show, reported that he had contracted the virus.
(Deep breath here.)
Wichita State, which pushed out Coach Gregg Marshall last week (with a $7.5 million parachute) after reports of abusive behavior, landed in Sioux Falls, S.D., just in time to learn that several team members had tested positive. It pulled out of an eight-team tournament.
Arizona State, which flew across the country on Monday, did so only after finding out that its opponent — Baylor, ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll — had reversed course and agreed to drop out of the Empire Classic, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., because Coach Scott Drew had tested positive. When Arizona State was in the air, a new opponent was procured: Rhode Island.
“It’s not the way you want to start a season,” said Val Ackerman, the Big East Conference commissioner. “This notion of trying to start the season with a bang is very real. Going into the season in a defensive crouch is a very tough thing.”
The organizers of the two large-scale events may be feeling acute leg cramps by now. The Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic — an incarnation of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, with frozen tundra standing in for sandy beaches — is in South Dakota, which has the highest current hospitalization rates in the United States and the fewest restrictions of any state. Six of the eight teams originally in the tournament have bailed and been replaced, and on Monday tournament organizers scuttled plans to allow fans.
At the Mohegan Sun, there are plans for six tournaments involving 40 teams that will play 45 games in 11 days in something the casino is calling Bubbleville.
The surface tension, though, is rapidly building. The first game, at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, was to feature the University of San Francisco (a fill-in, chosen Friday, for St. Bonaventure) against Towson State. At least until Monday night, when U.S.F. was moved to an 11 a.m. game against Stephen F. Austin. By Tuesday afternoon, that game was scratched and San Francisco was moved to a 4 p.m. game against UMass-Lowell, which just returned from a 14-day pause because of the virus.
This burst of games and the attendant travel — some of which will happen on commercial flights — come at a time when universities are urging their non-basketball-playing students to exercise great caution as they head home for Thanksgiving.
Among those wondering how long a season can go on like this is Rick Pitino.
He returned in March from exile, after a recruiting scandal at Louisville, to coach at Iona and was spending Tuesday in quarantine, just like a number of his colleagues. (Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, who had contracted the virus, was doing fine, but Tennessee Tech’s John Pelphrey was hurting, Pitino reported.) Iona can begin practice on Wednesday at the end of a 14-day hiatus due to a manager’s positive test. No Gaels coaches or players have contracted the virus, but the rules are the rules — at least in New Rochelle, N.Y..
Not so in Mississippi, where Coach Kermit Davis tested positive, but the players were allowed to continue practicing — at least until some tested positive and the team paused workouts on Monday. Or, apparently, in Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Krystkowiak was among “at least nine” positive cases within the program but that workouts have continued. (The 14-day pause is a guideline adopted by the N.C.A.A. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but colleges are allowed to defer to local health protocols.)
Pitino believes that, with vaccines being readied and flu season just arriving, the best way to rescue college basketball’s moneymaker — the N.C.A.A. tournament — may be to move the season back. He suggests starting the season in March and ending it with May Madness.
“Hospitals are being overrun, we’re at 200,000 cases a day,” Pitino said in an interview. “We’re not the N.B.A. — we don’t have $150 million to protect us in a bubble; we’re not college football and can play in an open-air facility. Interruptions are going to be quite substantial. There are 15 or 20 coaches that have tested positive, and we’re just entering winter. It’s going to be very difficult to manage a good product and keep everybody safe.”
Any sort of pivot for college basketball could be cleaner than the one in football: Four conferences — the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the Mountain West and the Mid-American — postponed and then reinstated fall football seasons.
But whereas major college football does not have a central governing body, the N.C.A.A. controls the basketball tournaments. The payouts to universities from the men’s tournament last year were supposed to total $600 million before the event was canceled; the payments were slashed by two-thirds in March.
The N.C.A.A. announced last week that it would hold the entire men’s tournament in a single city — it is in discussions with Indianapolis — but that it plans to do so as scheduled, over three weekends starting in March, and that it would not follow the suggestion of Atlantic Coast Conference coaches to let in all 357 Division I teams.
Dedrique Taylor, the coach at Cal State Fullerton, said he had woken up each morning during the pandemic with the same thought: Is today the day?
Last Thursday turned out to be. His team was 90 minutes into practice when the trainer entered Titan Gym with news that a player had tested positive. Taylor told team members to gather their belongings and that they would begin a 14-day quarantine. He spoke with them on a videoconference that night, allowing the players to vent. The next day, the University of Washington tournament they had entered was canceled.
Taylor said that in the normal rhythms of a season, coaches want their teams to build toward playing at their best in March, just as the Titans did when they reached the N.C.A.A. tournament in 2018.
Now, though, instability will be baked in — along with many questions. He wonders about injury risks when players return from quarantine, about whether the country will loosen up or lock down and how he can support his players and assistants.
As he spoke on the phone Monday, with the college basketball season about to embark, he mostly wondered why.
“I don’t understand why we’re playing or why we’re opening up when we’re trying to do away with the virus,” Taylor said, expressing concern about widespread weariness over pandemic-related restrictions. “We’re almost encouraging the virus by bringing people together. I’d rather be fatigued than freaking dead.”
With quarterback Drew Brees out for several weeks because of rib and lung injuries, the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl hopes rest with a jack-of-all-trades who is sometimes dismissed as a mere role player: the all-purpose running back Alvin Kamara.
Sorry, were you expecting the team’s backup quarterback, Taysom Hill? Hill, the gadget specialist and wish fulfillment figure currently filling in for Brees, is certainly critical to the Saints’ success. But Kamara has been their best offensive performer this season, by far, and he has emerged as a worthy candidate for the N.F.L. Most Valuable Player Award.
Through Week 11, Kamara ranked second in the league with 1,179 total yards from scrimmage and 12 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns. His 67 receptions tied him for seventh in the N.F.L. and led all running backs. Per Pro Football Reference, Kamara leads the league with 619 yards after the catch and 14 broken tackles after receptions. Coach Sean Payton lines him up at running back, various wide receiver positions, kick returner and occasionally as a wildcat quarterback to make the most of his diverse talents.
Kamara’s production has been vital to the Saints in a season in which Brees’s skills have continued their noticeable decline and Michael Thomas has missed six games because of injuries and the alluring siren song of wide receiver misbehavior. (Thomas missed one game for “disciplinary reasons,” reportedly after an altercation with a teammate during practice.)
The Saints’ offense this season often consisted almost entirely of Brees floating soft tosses into the flats or handing off so Kamara could dodge and juke his way around defenders for significant gains. Yet despite their overreliance on one individual, the Saints are 8-2, in first place in the N.F.C. South and at the front of the conference playoff race.
Kamara isn’t exactly an unsung hero: He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection and a perennial first-round pick in fantasy football leagues, where his combination of rushing and receiving production is highly coveted. But his contributions may be undervalued, for a variety of reasons. Kamara is a “committee back” who shares carries with Latavius Murray. He’s an all-purpose back who gets upstaged on statistical leaderboards by rushers whose production is not split into two categories, such as the Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook (the current leader in scrimmage yards and touchdowns) and the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry (last year’s rushing leader).
Kamara also lacks the folk hero origin story of Hill, the scrambling 30-year-old perma-prospect who overcame multiple collegiate injuries and worked his way up from the proverbial mailroom of the Saints’ practice squad to earn an extended audition as Brees’s long-term replacement.
Kamara played only a minor role in Hill’s starting debut, rushing 13 times for 45 yards and one touchdown (with zero receptions) in Sunday’s 24-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Payton surprised the Falcons by treating Hill like a real quarterback instead of building a game plan out of read options and easy tosses to Kamara. Hill surprised his skeptics by looking more like a real quarterback than a Mary Sue written into the Saints’ fan fiction to appeal to the middle-aged high school legend demographic.
Hill’s decision process in the pocket boils down to “wait for Thomas to get open and run for daylight if he doesn’t,” but there are a lot of quarterbacks around the N.F.L. who would benefit from similar clarity.
ImageCredit…Butch Dill/Associated Press
It’s one thing to use unexpected tactics to baffle the hapless Falcons, who earlier in the season mixed up the procedures for handling an onside kick and a live grenade. The Saints face the Denver Broncos’ tighter defense on Sunday, and future opponents (including the Falcons again in two weeks) will be ready to take away the Hill-to-Thomas connection. The Saints will need Kamara more than ever. Then Brees will (probably) return as the playoffs approach, and the Saints will go back to needing Kamara just as much as they always have.
No matter how irreplaceable Kamara may be to the Saints, he remains a long shot for M.V.P. consideration. The last nonquarterback to win the award was Adrian Peterson in 2012, when he rushed for 2,097 yards. The closest all-purpose performers like Kamara to win the award were LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 2,323 scrimmage yards and 31 touchdowns in 2006, and Marshall Faulk, who had 2,189 combined scrimmage yards and 26 touchdowns in 2000. Kamara is on a pace for 1,886 yards and 19.2 touchdowns: excellent, but not eye-popping enough to win an award almost exclusively reserved for quarterbacks.
Kamara’s M.V.P. case is far stronger once assumptions about the relative values of quarterbacks and running backs are set aside. He has spent most of the season assisting a fading Hall of Famer whose average throw this season traveled just 5.8 yards downfield (per N.F.L. Next Gen Stats, the second-lowest figure in the league). He’s now tasked with propping up a nondenominational Tim Tebow surrogate. He’s responsible for 31 percent of the offensive yardage for a team that swept Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is on a seven-game winning streak. And his dual rusher-receiver role makes him a more effective focal point for a modern N.F.L. offense than workhorses like Cook and Henry.
OK, even accounting for all that, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes may still be a better M.V.P. candidate in 2020. Kamara remains the most valuable player on the Saints. And if he can lead them to the Super Bowl, that’s all that will really matter.