Curly’s Wisdom: Finding the ‘One Thing’ For College Football Restart

Curly’s Wisdom: Finding the ‘One Thing’ For College Football Restart

It’s a classic film moment for those of us of a certain age.

In 1991’s City Slickers, Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal, asks trail boss Curly (Jack Palance) to reveal the secret of life. Curly responds “Just one thing.”

That one thing, Curly expounds, has to be figured out.  Hidden in his short reply is the idea that figuring out that most important thing is a personal task for everyone asking the question, and that the process might be just as important as finding the answer.

As we continue to hear from administratiors, coaches, players, medical experts and just about everyone with a keyboard and a camera as to how college football and sports might return this fall, Curly’s wisdom keeps popping up in the back of my mind — and often moves to the front.

At this point, there are as many plans, opinions and suggestions as there are diagrams in Mike Martz’ playbook. There’s seemingly no common ground. Return to campus early? The SEC is on board, even if Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley calls it crazy. No on-campus classes in the fall semester? The Cal State system is for you. Need to have students on campus? NCAA president Mark Emmert says yes, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says no.

Sequestration and isolation? Some schools already have plans in that direction. Herd immunity? Others are hoping (praying desperately) that is a viable option, even in the face of scientific opinion to the contrary. Miracle vaccine availability or, more realistically, development of a treatment protocol, are also on wish lists.

Add in all of the input, advice and guidelines from the NCAA, conference leaders, individual schools, health professionals and politicians, and there’s exactly zero consensus on what has to happen for college sports, and particularly football, to return. There are plenty of demonstrative statements and positive outlooks, but let’s face it — that means nothing n terms of practical plans.

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Which brings us back to Curly. Applying his principle, what’s the One Thing? Or, at least, one thing that HAS to happen in order for football to not only return, but also weather the almost certain outbreaks that will result when teams reassemble?


Unfortunately, that One Thing isn’t as simple as Curly’s signpost. It covers a multitude of areas, starting with the types of tests themselves. There’s tests to see if active infection is present, there are antibody tests, there are tests to determine if the virus is being carried even while not manifesting itself with symptoms.

Of each of these tests, reliability is also a huge problem. Some tests have shown to have error rates of up to 40% in missing positive returns. Improvements and new tests are being worked on daily, but the idea that any will be ready for mass production by Aug. 1 is a pipe dream.

Then there’s the number of tests needed. The NBA estimates that it will need some 15,000 tests to resume and complete its abbreviated season, if some 30-35 players and staffers were tested regularly. Now, take that ratio and apply it to, say 200 football players and staffers per team, multipled by the 255 teams playing Division I football. That’s a massive number. Will those be available?

Beyond that, there are many other questions around testing and its results that need to be answered. What happens when a positive test (or a cluster) of them develop? Will only those with symptoms be removed from practice and play, or will everyone in contact be shut down? If someone tests positive the Monday after a game, does that put the previous Saturday’s opponent into full test mode? The list of those issues will continue to grow as more planning is done in the hopes of having a season.

Still, you have to start somewhere. And perhaps reverting to Curly’s counsel would at least give everyone involved some focus on determining that One Thing. For the return of college sports, that’s testing.

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