In what increasingly feels like a truly time-and-space bending calendar year, it seems impossible that we’re less than two weeks away from the month of August — also known as the beginning of college football season.
Those of us with any level of investment in the well-being of college athletics have been on a whiplash-inducing emotional roller coaster these past few weeks. First, there was going to be a season, 100%, no changes at all, no way, nuh-uh. Then it was well, we might keep things conference only, you know, socially distant with our own friends in our own conferences. Then it was, holy god, it’s all falling apart, we’ll never make it happen, start shuttering up your non-revenue sports now.
In the past few days, the pendulum has swung back toward optimism (if you can call anything truly optimistic these days), as so-called “experts” now predict that they find it hard to see the college football season being cancelled completely. To be honest, I’ve always felt torn 50-50. While I could certainly see everyone making the blanket call to shut things down for a year, the financial toll would be overwhelming. I find it hard to believe athletic directors across the country won’t exhaust every option before pushing that particular big red button.
The popular talk as of late has been delaying the 2020 season to the spring of 2021, similar to what the major sports have done — just give your decision makers time to evaluate the state of the country (and the public discourse) before making definitive calls on anything.
So while this idea is still hot — I’d give it about 2 or 3 days before it’s considered old hat — let’s take a look at some of the possible pros and cons to a spring 2021 college football season.
Pro: A greater sense of “normalcy”
Take this with a grain of salt, because here’s the truth — things are never going back to “normal.” By the time we reach a world where COVID-19 isn’t at the forefront of our minds, we’re not going to recognize the one we left behind. However, if what we’re striving for is the greatest amount of pre-COVID normalcy that we can possibly achieve, a spring 2021 season could be a big help.
A spring season allows more time for research on vaccines and therapeutic treatments. If the virus reacts as many experts agree that it will in the fall (i.e. another large spike in cases), that leaves scientists and researchers only 6 to 8 weeks to make a lot of progress on one of the deadliest viruses we’ve seen this side of the dark ages. However, a spring season allows the medical community another few months to develop treatments and potential vaccines that could help things return to normal. At this point, fans in the stands feels like a pipe dream. But what if those fans are vaccinated or know that there’s a treatment with high rates of success? All of a sudden, things start to look a lot more like they did in the pre-coronavirus days...
And speaking of time...
Pro: Time for better planning
Even if the virus isn’t under control by spring 2021, how beneficial would an extra 3 to 5 months be for administrators and school officials who make the decisions on how these sorts of things will operate? It feels like every week presents a fresh challenge for the coming season, and everyone acknowledges that time is running out on a decision to uphold the integrity of the 2020 season as it is currently planned.
So let’s say July 31 rolls around and the NCAA announces a spring 2021 start. Now health officials have more time to learn about the virus and advise on preventative measures for schools and conferences to implement. Perhaps safer practice and game day measures can be put into place? Perhaps there’s a way to bring some amount of fans back into the equation! If there’s one thing everyone could use more of when making decisions these days, it’s time. An additional few months could be a boon to the health and prosperity of all parties involved in college football, from the conference administrators all the way down the practice squads.
Con: More opt-outs possible?
I plan on publishing a bigger piece about this sometime very soon, but college football fans of all schools need to be prepared for the possibility of opt-outs. It’s been a major topic all over the sports world, with stars of all calibers choosing to play it safe rather than play at all, and we’d be foolish to think the same won’t happen with players with nothing to gain from stepping on the field. This is especially true for players like Nick Bolton, Damon Hazelton and other Tiger upperclassmen likely to hear their names called in next year’s draft.
What’s the point in playing and risking your health? To maybe move up a round or two? Sure, the money could get better if you find yourself playing into the first two rounds, but is it worth the risk of your life or future health? And what about injuries? Are you wanting to risk injury by playing in full-speed games if you also plan on working out for NFL franchises? These are decisions a lot of players will have to make, and butting the season up against the draft gives them less time to make them.
Con: The domino effect on other sports
Say the college football season doesn’t kick off until late February or early March of 2021? It may be presumptuous to assume college basketball won’t be affected as much by COVID-19, but what are the domino effects of butting into the spring sports season? One of the major arguments against cancelling the 2020 season is the financial impact it would have on athletic departments around the country. Several schools are already cutting programs, and even Power Five schools have warned of the devastation a lost season would cause. Perhaps programs at Mizzou like basketball would be fine, and you could probably say the same for softball and baseball (even if their attendance would take a massive hit).
But what about other non-revenue sports? Gymnastics, swim and dive, golf, etc.? The delicate but unavoidable truth about these sports is that they’re not the money-makers, and are therefore more disposable to the university. When the health of your athletic department is on the line and every sport is running at the same time, what are you spending your marketing dollars on? The revenue generator or the sport that only die-hards keep up with? If the college football season is altered or abbreviated, non-revenue sports will be in trouble whichever way you slice it. But a spring season would likely provide the nails for several coffins, especially those that depend on publicity for survival.
Of course, these aren’t the only pros and cons toward a spring football season — they’re just the ones I felt like could be addressed quickly in a Sunday morning post. Sound off in the comments below on why you think a spring season would or would not be a good idea. And keep it civil, y’all.