With the COVID-19 crisis in full force and amid concerns about different states’ approaches to mitigation of said crisis, doubts that a college football season will take place in 2020 are more and more prevalent.
- South Carolina AD Ray Tanner stated that it may become a conference-by-conference decision;
- Administrators around the country have stated that there is not a feasible manner in which football can be conducted if students aren’t allowed on campus;
- The Boise State football coaching staff was subjected to a 7-10 day furlough last week, signaling that public universities are facing a payroll crisis due to the pandemic. They won’t be the last.
Schools, conferences, and the nation at large will be faced with a very delicate web to weave if we’re going to see football on time in 2020. Watching coach interviews during the NFL Draft, listening to them on podcasts, and reading their growingly-candid thoughts makes it clear that we would need a clear plan forward by mid-June at the latest.
That’s six weeks away.
I don’t profess to be an epidemiologist and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see a way that the efforts to mitigate COVID-19 will show enough progress to allow students back on campus for the summer and fall— and thus, don’t believe college football is happening in the fall. What would a spring “2020” football season to be played in 2021 look like?
Well, first, we’d have to find solutions to work through the following:
Issue #1: Player Safety and Workload
The most pressing concern with launching football in the spring is simply: when can coaches get personal access to players again?
For a season to start in January, there would likely need to be some sort of minicamp setting (proposed by Nick Saban, among others) to allow coaches to, well, coach— and to make sure diet and exercise were up to standard protocols to minimize risk to players on the field.
Even an eight-game season, which I’ll propose, would lead to players participating in upwards of 20 games assuming a full 2021 season. While the spring season would be a welcome relief after a growing lag in sports, the fact is that you’re asking unpaid labor to pull double duty.
The biggest key is getting players back on campus as soon as possible— even if its before the general student population (which, again, doesn’t appear overwhelmingly likely.)
Issue #2: Logistics
In a North Carolina-specific situation, this is not a huge issue. Kenan Stadium is a football-only facility, and could be cleared for football Saturdays as if it was the fall.
But: what if there’s a home baseball game on the same day? Or, heaven forbid, a home basketball game? Between concessions, traffic control, ushers, gameday personnel, etc., are there enough resources to handle multiple events on the same day?
I’d assume there would have to be some creative scheduling, which the stakeholders at the ACC Network, ESPN, et al would either love with the creation of live content...or hate.
The issues at UNC aren’t as bad as other places— what if the Carrier Dome gets double-booked for Syracuse football and basketball, and whatever other sports that may be hosted there? What about smaller schools, where a grass field is used for football, soccer, lacrosse, and more?
Issue #3: Money
Teams are paying multi-million dollar guarantees for home wins against lesser opponents. Carolina is scheduled to host UConn and James Madison in 2020. While UConn is still (technically) FBS, they are now an independent and don’t have conference TV contracts to fall back on. James Madison is one of the elite FCS programs, but teams on that level typically budget their athletic departments around these guarantee games.
This is a larger issue the further down the food chain you go, but a truncated season would likely be conference-only. What happens when all of this TV and revenue capital falls by the wayside?
Issue #4: The NFL, eligibility, and early enrollees
This is, quite frankly, why there needs to be a facsimile of a 2020 season, somehow. But it is wrought with issues.
First, what would elite draft-eligible players do? Would they choose to sit out the spring season in order to prepare themselves for the 2021 NFL Draft? Could you picture the next UNC offense without legitimate prospects such as Dazz Newsome, Dyami Brown, Michael Carter, and Javonte Williams? What if Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields sat the season out?
Stemming from that, more players than ever are enrolling in college early. Would 2021 signees be eligible to play in a “2021” season, despite it not technically being part of their eligibility? My instinct would say no, but its a fun question to ask.
And finally, if there is no 2020 season, whether this fall or in spring 2021, how do you navigate player eligibility? Many seniors need to get some film to boost their professional prospects. Could we count on the NCAA to waive scholarship restrictions for a year or two? Does the one-time transfer waiver come through without a season, making transfers free agency looking towards a 2021 season? These are questions I hope we don’t have to answer.
A proposal for a Spring 2021 football season
This is a little bit of a pain in the rear, as conferences such as the Pac-12, Big XII, and Big Ten play 9-game schedules.
What I’ll propose, therefore, is a 9-game regular season that wraps up before the last weekend of April, when the NFL Draft takes place. In this situation, the NFL is going to just have to rely on film and not the silly combine process. To which I say: boy, that’s gonna be a tough sell.
January 8-March 6: 9-week college football season, played as uniformly as possible. For 8-game conferences, a nonconference tune-up in week 1, out-of-division games in 2-3, and division play starting in week 4. Who’s down for a January 22nd home date against N.C. State?
March 13: Conference Championships
March 25-27: CFB Semifinals, New Years Six bowls, start of regular bowl season to be played throughout the next week.
April 5: a whole weekend of college championships! Play the Final Four on Saturday, the CFB Playoff on Sunday, and the basketball national championship on Monday.
April 22-24: NFL Draft
What do you think of this idea? What recommendations would you have for a potential season should fall football not take place? Let us know in the comments below.