Sports fans are fearing the prospect of no season at all, but one audible being suggested for salvaging college football in 2020 in the face of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be offsides.
Executives behind other sports have been trying to figure out how far back they need to push their schedules, whether it’s for the resumption of a suspended season like the NBA or the start of a new one like the NFL. In the most drastic move yet, the International Olympic Committee announced Monday that the 2020 Tokyo Games will now start on July 23, 2021.
Meanwhile, someone has floated the idea of moving the college football season up by nearly two months to play a limited summer schedule.
What’s the theory behind starting college football earlier?
As is the case with professional sports, there’s a lot of money in college football. The NCAA already canceled its men’s basketball tournament, which is a cash cow for schools – many of which will now end the 2019-20 fiscal year in the red. The possibility of having next year’s budget wrecked by the cancellation of the football season has athletic directors at the big schools nervous.
Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal has suggested colleges could be better off moving the 2020 season to the summer and playing an abbreviated schedule on the theory that getting in some games is better than risking playing none in the fall.
The idea rests on the premise that the worst of the current pandemic could be over by early May and then the warm summer weather may further suppress the virus. The assumed risk of sticking with a fall schedule is that a new wave of the virus could begin circulating by mid-October and wreck the remainder of the season.
Even if all the other aspects of this idea – calling it an actual plan is premature – come together, it’s difficult to imagine the authorities will allow fans to attend in person. But it would at least give players the opportunity to be seen by pro scouts ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.
What would a short college football season look like?
The Sports Business Journal writer is suggesting a June mini-camp for teams, followed by most of July in training camp and then eight or nine games in August and September with no postseason. The shorter schedule would seemingly rule out most non-conference games.
The lack of a College Football Playoff puts the selection of a national champion back in the hands of poll voters, which isn’t ideal. And the dozens of non-playoff bowl games are economic engines for communities because of the fans who follow their teams; those cities need the revenue every bit as much as the athletic departments do.
Part of the rationale behind the summer concept is that fans would embrace any sport after the long U.S. shutdown. But would they feel safe enough to attend games if allowed to do so? And would they even want to watch in person in 90-degree temperatures or on their home TVs after being cooped up for most of the spring?
The networks would presumably be interested, but they would also be showing Major League Baseball and golf by then and there could conceivably be NBA playoff games in August, too.
Could playing in the summer work?
Moving games up instead of back would mean a huge bet by college football conferences that the coronavirus pandemic will have largely run its course soon. That reason alone makes it sound like a bad idea, and the fact that no one in the NFL is raising the possibility of a similar move suggests as much.
Also, the summer concept appears focused solely on Football Bowl Subdivision and perhaps Football Championship Subdivision programs – with TV money being a crucial consideration.
There’s no incentive for Division II and III schools to try it, and the FBS teams from lesser conferences will lose out on most of the large paydays they get from Big Ten and SEC opponents to play on the road.
In summary, the resources required to rebuild schedules, prepare campuses for an early return by players, and sync with TV networks would be better used working out contingencies for a late start or early completion of a fall season.