College football is a game of pageantry. It’s a game of tradition. A game of history. There have certainly been changes over the years, but the fundamentals of the sport have more or less stayed the same.
That could be changing right before our very eyes.
Take everything you’ve ever known about college football, and be prepared to throw it out the window for 2020... and maybe beyond.
Mizzou has played at least 10 games every year for the last 75 seasons. That’s up in the air for 2020.
Non-conference games have been a staple in college football. They’re likely gone for 2020.
The concept of amateurism has been at the core of college football for more than a century. Even that could be up in the air depending on what happens over the next six weeks.
COVID-19 became a sports conversation in mid-March. Since then, the NFL and college football have always had one thing on their side that other sports did not: the benefit of time.
As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s getting late early.”
Mizzou football typically starts fall camp in early August. The season is supposed to start in early September. This is all starting to become very real, and Thursday was the first time most casual college football fans were faced with that reality.
If you missed the news Thursday, the Big 10 made headlines by announcing its member schools will not be participating in any non-conference games this fall. The PAC-12 is expected to do the same. The ACC may soon follow. The SEC is summoning its 14 athletic directors to the league offices next week (in-person!) to discuss what the league is going to do about fall sports (a.k.a. football).
Eliminating non-conference games was the easy part. What comes next is much more difficult.
How many games does each league now schedule? The Big 10 is going with 10. Will the SEC deviate from its usual 8-game slate?
What if the local authorities reverse course and decide it’s actually unsafe for institutions to bring students back on campus? Does college football march on?
And what happens if, instead of a lower capacity, athletic departments are forbidden from allowing any fans in the stands?
The answers to these questions have very real consequences.
Revenue, for example, is going to take a hit. Some schools are already eliminating non-revenue sports. Others will certainly follow. Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk admitted yesterday on a Zoom call, “We’ll adjust our budget as we go through this calendar year, and so we’ll have to look at our budgets and what we’re doing.”
In other words, “We’ll see.” He added that the athletic department is currently looking at as many as a dozen different scenarios for how the college football season could play out.
Everything is on the table for these schools right now.
And I do mean everything.
The possibilities could range from a cancelled season to COVID-19 cases taking a dip and we start talking about large crowds in the stands sooner than later.
It’s all in play.
And so are fundamental changes to what we’ve always know college football to be.
The most fascinating possibility (at least to me) is one I’ve been thinking about more often as it becomes a more realistic possibility: What do conferences do if member institutions aren’t allowed to bring students back on campus? Do they cancel sports? Do they cancel only the non-revenue sports but push forward with football?
And if they decide on the latter, doesn’t that more or less admit college football players are employees university employees with the sole purpose of generating revenue for the athletic department?
If that scenario presents itself, it could completely flip the college football world on its head.
College football - as we have come to know it - will not exist in 2020. We already know that much to be true. Changes could last far beyond the upcoming season. College football is being rocked to its core. Changes are coming.
I’m prepared for anything. I hope you are, too.