The spread of COVID-19 in the United State has led to a complete halt of sporting events in the country and has prompted questions whether the 2020 college football season will take place.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was among many FBS coaches who have been asked that question this week.
“I never really answer hypothetical questions,” Saban said. “I’m sure that everybody’s going to want me to speculate on what’s going to happen in the future, and nobody really knows.”
With that uncertainty in mind, here are all the factors to consider when assessing the potential for a college football season.
No football in 2020?
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit evoked a strong reaction when he said he would be “shocked” if there was college football in 2020.
There more than 257,390 cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Timetables for when the virus could peak and spike again stretch into the summer months, and several sporting events have been shut down into July.
The outbreak of COVID-19 needs to be suppressed before college football is even a consideration.
Herbstreit’s comments point to the worst-case scenario for the sport, and the financial ramifications would be significant for the athletic departments given the revenue the sport has generated.
“I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest, when it’s safe and right to do, that we play a football season,” Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour told the Reading Eagle this week. “We’ve talked about the emotional and the moral piece for communities across this country. Then, obviously there’s a revenue and a financial piece to it.”
That is why there are contingency plans in place.
Important dates to consider
Spring football was wiped out because of the spread of COVID-19, and the SEC canceled its May spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
The recruiting calendar also has been impacted. The NCAA extended the dead period until May 31. That means college coaches cannot have face-to-face interactions with recruits until June 1.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley points to June 1 as one of the important dates to consider for the possibility of the season.
“The next realistic time most people are going to be looking at is the summer period and whether or not you have camps,” Riley said. “Whether or not you are able to have prospects on campus. That’s going to be the next realistic possibility. What we do the rest of the summer will probably hinge on how that plays out.”
Fall camps typically open in late July and early August, and the first games on the FBS schedule are Aug. 29. That includes an overseas game between Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
Those dates will be impacted on whether the threat of COVID-19 has been suppressed in the summer.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is among the coaches who believe there will be a college football season in 2020.
“That’s the best-case scenario, and I think that’s what’s going to happen,” Swinney said in a teleconference Friday. “I have zero doubt that we’re going to be playing.
“This is America, man. We’ve stormed the beaches of Normandy. We’ve sent a rover out on Mars and walked on the moon. This is the greatest country. We’ve created an iPhone where I can sit here and talk to people in all these different places. We’ve got the smartest people in the world. We’re going to rise up and kick this thing in the teeth and get back to our lives.”
That might be the case, but there are still other factors to consider if COVID-19 cases are still spreading.
Some alternatives include:
Games with no fans
Before sports were suspended across the United States. That was a measure taken before several college basketball conference tournaments.
Would a college football game be feasible without fans in the stands?
“It would be very, very unique,” Riley said. “If that what it comes to do for games to still be able to be played and guys to still be able to play and then for our fans to connect and be a part of it virtually, that may be where we could end it.”
If games in September are canceled, college football could take steps toward shortening the season to seven or eight games.
Would that be strictly a conference schedule? That is one of the logistical hurdles given the nature of college football rivalries.
“Well, you know we play eight conference games, so there would need to be at least eight weeks. Here in our state there would need to be nine, because we would need to play South Carolina,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said.
Clemson-South Carolina, of course, is a nonconference game.
Later start date
College football also could consider the possibility of a winter or spring schedule is COVID-19 spread extends into September, October and even November.
That is yet another option that require logistics. Riley was among the coaches who was asked about how long it would take to get a football team game ready.
“We could have 15 to 20 practices and be ready to go play, without a doubt,” Riley said.
Riley also is among the coaches who is not going to put an absolute start date on the season. That’s part of the uncertainty because of the spread and the priority to get back to normal lives in the United States.
That extends way past football. When the time is right, however …
“I don’t know that we can put on a limit,” Riley said. “Football, just purely the game, can be played anytime, anywhere. I think we all have to be open-minded about it.”
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