Just this last week, the Power 5 conferences released their intended schedules for this incredibly unique College Football season. All of the major conferences, with the exception of the ACC, were expected to stick with a layout of a shortened year, that includes strictly in-conference matchups. In the past few days, though, these very same conferences seem to have taken a completely different approach to these proposals, by now considering the cancellation of the 2020/21 College Football season.
It all began on Monday, with the leaked report of the Big Ten deciding to postpone all fall sports, including football, and the PAC-12 rumored to follow suit. Since then, this report has been questioned by some, as the Big Ten has yet to vote on a formal decision but is expected to have one by later this week.
NBC Sports’ Dan Patrick announced on The Dan Patrick Show that a source mentioned that both the Big Ten and PAC-12 will publicly announce the cancellation of their football season in the coming days. Additionally, the ACC and the Big 12 are “on the fence,” but the SEC is trying to get programs from these conferences to temporarily join them. According to Patrick, the SEC is looking at exclusive TV contracts and revised scheduling that would allow for these schools to get in.
In a direct response to these rumors, star players such as Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State QB Justin Fields, have released public statements and tweets pushing players’ urge to continue with a season. These series of tweets have jumpstarted the new movement, #WeWantToPlay, in which many college players have voiced their opinions and laid out statistics to argue why having a season would carry stronger benefits than downsides to these student-athletes.
For example, Lawrence argues that, “Having a season also incentivizes players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting Covid because the season/teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions.”
Head coaches for the major collegiate programs have also taken public stance in favor of having a season. Among these include Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. Each have argued that the damage done to the current student-athletes from both a potential health and professional football career standpoint could be “irredeemable.”
After these various tweets by these star players and coaches, the Power 5 conferences released a united statement declaring their intent of making a football season this year possible. In this statement, the conferences mention their intent for allowing player opt outs, their abiding by universal mandated health and safety regulations, and guaranteeing player eligibility whether or not a player decides to play this season.
In other words, this is another public non-answer to the real questions posed to the Power 5 conferences of College Football.
Will we have College Football this year? How will it be done?
These are the questions many of us are asking today and will continue to ask for the foreseeable future. It is the job of each of the Power 5 commissioners to work with one another to make a definitive decision that not only provides true safety for all those involved but avoids potential long-term burdens on the future for these student-athletes.
To answer the question about the status of this year’s College Football season, I believe it will indeed happen. It is just a matter of when.
That being said, if I had a direct say on the outcome of this matter, I would argue in favor of a shortened spring season. Yes, I understand that many star players, especially those that are draft eligible may opt out, and that having the following fall season immediately after may pose health and logistical problems for everyone, but hear me out.
From a college student’s perspective, by allowing for a spring season, the possibility of a traditional College Football Saturday experience becomes at least somewhat possible. With the potential of a vaccine, or other forms of COVID-19 treatments in the coming months, allowing the season to wait until the spring gives the “powers that be” the time to make these a reality. This would create a much safer, more genuine gameday experience for the players, coaches, and fans alike.
Sure, it may not be as “star-studded” as other years, but keep in mind that the major programs all have roster contingency plans. In other words, schools like Clemson and Alabama each have young quarterbacks ready to take the mantle for their most experienced teammates to make a name for themselves. This applies to other positions all over the football field, as each of the major programs typically find success in long-term player recruitment to some degree.
In the case of player physical safety, I would argue that a collegiate athlete can handle the burden of having a shortened spring season followed by a normal fall season better than a grizzled NFL veteran. If the conferences want to play it safe, though, they should implement temporary rules for eligibility during both of these seasons that would hinder the long term affects for these student-athletes.
For example, each conference should propose the ability to maintain an additional year of eligibility to those that opt out of the spring season but are currently seniors, or graduate transfers, to allow them to build back their draft stock.
Additionally, I would propose a mandatory one game rest for each player on a roster in the following fall season. This would force teams to strategically pull each player from action any given week, which would add to both the competitiveness of the season, but also ensure greater player safety. In this case, when a major program has one of their annual “cupcake” games against smaller programs, they can decide to sit their starters without really hurting their chances of winning that severely.
In short, by allowing for a spring season, the Power 5 and College Football as a whole are making the possibly of having games with fans, in even a limited capacity a true reality. With the inevitable advances in COVID-19 treatment in the coming months, holding a spring season would be safer for the players and coaches on the field, and allow for an all-around more genuine experience on Saturday gamedays.
I truly believe that the uncertainty surrounding this season is coming from the presidents from these universities, rather than the commissioners of the conferences themselves, hence providing the safest option is of the upmost priority. A spring season can achieve this.