Let’s get the easy part out of the way first.
Yes, there will be college football again.
Pretty much 99% guaranteed, because nothing is really certain in the age of COVID-19, which is part of the confusion right now.
On one side, you have Clemson coach Dabo Swinney assuring everyone that college football is coming just like you remember it. And you have ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit predicting the cancellation of a season that’s still almost five months away.
“I think it’s impossible to predict when we’ll have a season,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said during an appearance on ESPN, “but I am extremely confident that we will have a season at some point. It may look different. The schedule may look different. Fans in the stands may look different. Starting times may be different.
“We don’t know. And we have to be ready to adjust.”
Meanwhile, conference commissioners and athletic directors are game-planning contingencies that could salvage some semblance of a season, in large part to keep that TV money pipeline flowing to campus. From a financial standpoint, a college season without football would be a disaster with implications for all sports on campus.
“There’s nothing that I’ve heard that makes you wince or anything,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said Tuesday. “I think it’s the unknown that we all keep running through our heads, going ‘OK, what if this happens and what if that happens.?’ To me, it’s way too early at this stage.”
If Riley is right and there will be football, then here are some of the possibilities:
Games as usual: Hey, it’s possible, although it would involve a major bending of the curve of the pandemic in the U.S. probably by the end of this month and a sharp decrease by summer.
Then players could return for workouts by early July and things get back to normal. Things have changed so quickly — remember that the NCAA basketball championship game would have normally taken place Monday with “One Shining Moment” — that it’s possible.
On a teleconference Tuesday, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy even suggested starting football May 1 with COVID-19 testing for staff members and then players.
“We have to have a plan, and the plan right now is for that to start on May 1. It might get backed up two weeks. I don’t know,” Gundy said. “I can’t make that call. But if it does, we’ll start with the employees of this company — the ones that come in this building. Then we’ll bring the players in. Slowly but surely, we’ll test them all in.”
At the same time, all it would take is one player or coach testing positive in preseason workouts to have an entire team in quarantine, so schools have to be certain.
A season in September, minus the fans: This is the compromise that conferences and the NCAA briefly tried for their basketball tournaments last month.
It never really got tested. The trouble with football sans fans is that if campus sites aren’t safe enough for fans, what about the players on campus?
Conference games only: What happens if COVID-19 looks to be under control but national health authorities aren’t totally certain about a return? That’s when conference games only becomes a viable scenario.
Make it nine games for every team for a level playing field, with the regular season still ending the first week in December. Bowl eligibility might have to be cut down to five wins — or four.
The TV dollars won’t be the same. Neither will ticket sales. But it beats not having anything.
Late, late football: How about some football — starting in November or even January?
Anything to get a season in, although this might be a last resort, buying time to get COVID-19 under control.
It has plenty of problems too, beginning with the schedule for the College Football Playoff and bowl games. Plus college administrators have been phobic about football becoming a two-semester sport.
Plus, might TV executives react to college football’s postseason potentially encroaching into much of college basketball, even part of March Madness? Or games being played during the NFL draft?
“To me, the first question you have to ask is what happens to the 2021 season?” Bjork said. “What’s that timing look like? You need four months to play a college football season.”
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