The coronavirus pandemic cost fans the NCAA Tournament and all NCAA spring sports. However, it remains to be seen whether the NCAA will still be on hold when football season rolls around.
Granted, there are over three months until teams would normally get together for training camp and more than four months until the start of the season. Unfortunately, nobody in college football seems to be on the same page with regard to whether the season will be affected by the pandemic or not.
For the most part, athletic directors are trying to take a prudent and conservative approach to the situation. Northwestern AD Jim Phillips is one of the recent administrators to speak publicly about the topic.
He took the unpopular stance that everything is on the table, including the possibility that some or all fall sports will have to be canceled, meaning there will be no college football this year.
“Maybe we’ll play 12 games; maybe you won’t be able to play any. Maybe there’s a reduced schedule you can have. Everybody’s trying to figure this out as we go along,” Phillips said in a radio interview this week.
“There will be a college football season only if and when the medical experts, CDC, state regional and national leaders declare it to be safe. And it won’t be made by a football coach, an athletic director, or a university president.”
Not In Agreement
Naturally, there’s been some pushback from ADs who mention the possibility that there will be no 2020 season. Given the behemoth that college football is financially for many of the schools at the FBS level, schools stand to lose a lot of money if the season is canceled altogether.
In an effort to avoid a complete financial loss, the idea of playing in empty stadiums has been proposed. That would bring money to schools and conferences through television contracts, even if universities don’t make money from gate receipts.
However, while that plan may be more feasible for pro leagues like the NBA or MLB, it may not make sense for college football, especially if campuses remain closed and are only conducting online classes.
“I struggle with that concept,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith of the possibility of playing games without fans. “When I first heard that, I said, ‘OK, that could work.’ But I figured if we don’t have fans in the stands, we’ve determined it’s not safe for them in a gathering environment. So why would it be safe for the players?”
Others have fallen in line with Smith’s assessment, including new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who said: “Either we’ve made it through this and it’s safe for people to be around or it’s not.”
Of course, others are taking the opposite stance and don’t think anything should stand in the way of the college football season. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy got into some hot water for his misguided comments last week.
But he’s not the only one. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says he isn’t letting himself think about the possibility of the season being canceled.
“I’m not going to give it one thought that it’s not going to happen,” says Harbaugh. “I learned that it’s better to be prepared and not have the opportunity than to not prepare and your chance comes, and your opportunity comes, and you’re not prepared to do it.”
Most fans can get on board with Harbaugh’s optimism. However, while a decision on whether there will be college football this fall remains a long way off, it’s disconcerting to have coaches and ADs with such drastic perspectives.
At some point, everyone will have to get on the same page, and we’re a long way from that happening right now.
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