As students descended upon the Storrs, Conn., campus for the start of the school year, the virus took off, same as at other universities nationwide. Twenty-three of Connecticut’s roughly 100 players ended up catching it, though none became seriously ill.

Since classes were online, Edsall gave the green light to anyone who wanted to go home. Roughly a dozen did. The rest stuck close to school. They practiced and lifted weights, paying strict attention to distancing. The unusual experience bonded them in ways they had never imagined.

“There were times when we realized that, ‘Wow, we really are all going through this, all sitting out, together!’” Van Demark said. “We felt like a family.”

The biggest benefit of giving up on the season, Edsall said, was a sense of calm.

“For us, there was none of that uncertainty, that wear and tear on the mind that other teams felt,” he said, adding that he had heard from several coaching colleagues at other schools who envied what his team had done. He could sense the stress and worry in their voices. Edsall felt none of that.

“I normally don’t sleep well at night during a season,” he said. “But I slept very, very well all year.” Putting the welfare of players and community first, he added, “gives peace of mind for everyone involved.”

It is too late for Ohio State and Alabama to heed such wisdom.

But not too late for the rest of college sports.

A good place to start would be on the Connecticut campus, home to vaunted men’s and women’s basketball teams. Both have already been battered by the virus. Yet both carry on, eyes fixed on title dreams and fiscal windfalls, ears closed to the message sent by college football’s real national champion.

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