For months now, I have viewed the 2020 college football season with cautious optimism. At some times more than others, I’ve felt better about having a regular season as scheduled. But as we approach the dog days of summer it seems that the probability we have college football this fall is quickly sailing away.
Thursday was a bit of a bombshell for College Football 2020 as the Big 10 announced plans to move to conference-only competition for fall sports including football. Reports are also circulating that the ACC, SEC and other power five conferences are potentially considering the same. On Friday, the Pac-12 made it official and is moving forward with a conference-only schedule for all fall sports as well.
If that happens one of the questions that looms large is what happens to rivalry games like Clemson/South Carolina, Georgia Tech/Georgia, Florida State/Florida and also what do independents like Notre Dame fall back on? Unfortunately, it appears the ACC would bail them out again and put them into the rotation as a conference game.
But seriously, Notre Dame already has all the benefits of being an ACC member without actually being one. The ACC was already giving the Fighting Irish six games against ACC foes this season as “non-conference” contests. SIX. Why? When does the ACC put its foot down and say either you’re in 100 percent for all sports or you’re out? That time could be now. It SHOULD be now. And I don’t mean just for this season. Use this unfavorable moment as leverage in the deal. It is beyond time to either join as a football member or hit the road, Jack.
According to a statement from ACC Commissioner John Swafford on Friday, a final verdict should be released by the end of the month.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and administrators remains the top priority of the ACC. As we continue to work on the best path forward for the return of competition, we will do so in a way that appropriately coincides with out universities’ academic missions. Over the last few months, our conference has prepared numerous scenarios related to the fall athletics season. The league membership and our medical advisory group will make every effort to be as prepared as possible during these unprecedented times, and we anticipate a decision from our Board of Directors in late July.ACC Commissioner John Swafford
The conference-play only thing seems like more of a business decision than a health conscious one. Because let’s get real. Why can Clemson host Syracuse (roughly 852 mile trip) but not South Carolina (roughly 130 miles). Then there’s Boston College traveling 1,300 miles to play at Florida State while the Seminoles would be unable to face their arch rival Florida traveling from roughly 150 miles away. I could go on but you get my point. Clearly close proximity isn’t a selling point for this decision.
It’s about the money. This would allow teams like Clemson and Alabama to not have to worry with playing Akron and Georgia State this season, respectively, and signing off a big check to them for a meaningless win. Athletic Departments are hurting, and cuts have to be made where possible.
Simply put, some won’t be able to afford to play this year while maintaining a healthy program and staff during this pandemic. (Morehouse has already cancelled its fall sports for the year.) Now schools like Clemson, Alabama, Texas A&M, Ohio State etc. absolutely can afford these extra expenses. But backing out of these non-conference deals frees up money that can be used for testing, PPE and other needs that arise. Also, perhaps it saves you from paying a team $300,000 plus travel expenses to come beat you. Looking at you, East Carolina. Heck, FSU had to pay Boise State $400,000 last season for that ugly loss in Doak Campbell. Ouch.
The ripple effect of Covid-19 runs deep in athletic departments. Look no further than Florida State where this week they announced up to 25 job cuts within the Athletic Department due to the ongoing economic impact of Covid-19. It’ll be a blow to some schools to have these non-conference “money games” cancelled but it is just the way it has to be.
There’s so many layers to this thing. Let’s say the NCAA says “hey, have at it! Spot the ball!” And the Power 5 conferences all pretty much go on the conference game only route. Okay, great….right? In the words of coach Lee Corso, NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND!
All of this will still somehow come down to local and state government and what is allowed in each area. Last week S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster made it clear he won’t allow high school or college football in the state if folks don’t get their act together.
And let’s be honest, just like with players returning to campus last month tied with recent Memorial Day and July 4th celebrations, we will see another spike when the rest of the students and staff return to campus as well….that’s assuming they do at all. That’s another hit to having football. USC already back pedaled on their initial decision and will hold online classes only as will Harvard.
The possibility of a split season or one completely postponed until the spring has been tossed around. But I don’t see how football can be played in spring. At all. Not to mention how a spring season impacts spring practice, recruiting/visits and just the overall schedule for the next calendar year.
You also have the 2021 NFL draft getting involved and players would choose just to skip or sit out anyways to avoid getting injured and hurting their draft status. Meaning we very well could have seen the final collegiate snaps for guys like Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Dylan Moses and Travis Etienne.
I think it’s fall football or bust. Period.
But perhaps we are all headed in the same direction of the Ivy League who has cancelled all sports for the fall season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now make no mistake, the priorities at Harvard and Yale don’t exactly align perfectly with those of Alabama, Ohio State or Clemson but the fact remains we could all be headed in that direction.
As I mentioned in my last post, we are losing against the Pandemic right now and it’s quickly slipping away from us from the perspective of having sports back in the fall. I had concerns about this in March when many were saying it was an overreaction. Well…here we are. Months down the road and in fact we don’t know much more about the virus now than we did back then and numbers are on the rise here across the United States.
I don’t want to get too “political” and point out how other countries that were hard hit are doing significantly better with handling and controlling the pandemic. But boy, oh boy, it sure makes you wonder how they were able to figure it out and the leader of the free world is stumbling over its own feet. Sure seems like from a local and federal leadership standpoint along with collectively as a country we are failing pretty miserably. But I digress.
At this point, as we sit here on July 10 I fully believe that fans in the stands isn’t even a question at this point. I’ve always been skeptical about how one would logistically and fairly manage that. To me, that isn’t even an issue anymore. IF we’re able to have a season, there won’t be fans in the stands. I just can’t see a way around it at least until this thing gets going and we are able to make adjustments as we move forward.
So many questions still need to be answered and the clock is ticking. Will coaching staffs need to wear face mask during team activities and on the sidelines on gameday? What about the refs? Can’t forget about security and other game day staff all over the stadium? How will we spread out folks in the media/game operations press box? Will cheerleaders and socially distanced band be allowed in the stadium? How often can we/will we need to test players, coaches and trainers? How long will said person have to sit out if they test positive and how about all those he/she came into contact with that could also be at higher risk for testing positive? How can we be sure this is regulated properly at each school and test results are accurately reported?
What about game balls? Sure, they are switched out throughout the game but how do you attempt to keep them sanitized and clean from start to finish? I guess Clemson players rubbing Howard’s Rock prior to running down the hill for The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football is out of the question, right? Gone too is the post game handshakes among coaches and players and Clemson’s traditional “meeting at the paw” to sing the alma mater after each home game.
Let’s not even begin to think about how this conference-only format changes everything about the playoff race. Whew. Talk about chaos and pressure to expand the playoffs.
In the weeks to come we will learn more and hear finalized plans but I’ll be honest. I don’t see us having football this fall. Money rules all and I think they will try their best to make it happen, but at the end of the day, I think there are just so many moving parts to this and not sure we can make it work and not put countless lives across the nation in unnecessary danger for football. Only time will tell but if I had to bet, my money is on us not seeing football until 2021.