Will There Be College Football This Year?

Where things stand in mid-May

Appearing on Channel 955's Mojo in the Morning radio program yesterday, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was asked by the host what people should tell their children about normally scheduled spring and summer events. Her response was "we have to measure their expectations, because life’s going to be different. We’re not going to be filling stadiums in the fall."

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on and continues to affect everyone's lives in a monumental way, we fans are left to wonder when sports can safely resume. Obviously there are bigger issues at hand for all of us...like our health, our jobs, our livelihoods, our communities. And while compared to those things sports can seem trivial, they're still a big part of a lot people's lives. It's natural to wonder when certain things are going to be resuming, and for people like us, sports is near the top of that list.

Major League Baseball is circling early July to begin a modified 82-game schedule...with no fans in the stands of course. The PGA is also hoping to resume in June without fans. The NBA and NHL, two major sports forced to halt their schedules because of the virus, are debating whether to scrap their seasons altogether. And now as the calendar marches on and the virus lingers, everyone is looking to the fall and asking whether football will be affected. 

The simple truth is, right now in mid-May, no one knows for sure. This is a worldwide viral pandemic...no one has a crystal ball. One thing I'm fairly certain of right now is that no fans be in attendance for any major sporting event in the 2020 calendar year.

Of course we all want football and all sports to return as fast as possible. But not at the cost of anyone's life. It's just not worth it. But as we begin the learn more about this virus and the curve continues to flatten, there will be more and more debate about how sports, in our case college football, can take place. It's important to understand that college and the NFL will be on a completely different plane in terms of how/if/when they can happen. I think the NFL season will occur this fall in some fashion no matter what. They're a far more insular business that doesn't need to consider other factors such as colleges being open and ticket sales being as crucial to their bottom line. Plus, in CFB, there are multiple conferences all with their own rules and regional conditions/factors to consider.

But any sport, whether it's football or baseball or auto racing will have to be prepared for when, not if, someone gets infected once their seasons resume. Remember Indiana Pacers center Rudy Gobert? The key to any sport coming back and staying back will be vigorous testing and tracing for the players, coaches, staff and all gameday personnel. And on top of that, everyone involved will have to understand that they're taking a risk and be willing to do so. While the vast majority of people who've died from this virus have been over the age of 60 regardless of preexisting conditions, the risk is still there for everyone. 

I can't sit here on May 13th and tell you that I think the Big Ten, the NCAA, or any sport governing body will be willing to risk the safety of their athletes or coaches to play sports with what we know right now. I just don't see it.

The Big Ten has circled mid-June as a timeframe to make an initial call about fall sports and if they can move forward. 
“I’m looking to be in a position in the next six to eight weeks to see if we will have sports in the fall,” Warren said Wednesday on CNBC during an interview discussing the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on college athletics. "But even bigger than sports in the fall is we’re collectively focusing on what we need to do to have school in the fall. If we don’t have school in the fall, we don’t have sports in the fall.”
Last week, Michigan AD Warde Manuel echoed that sentiment when asked in a virtual town hall about sports happening this fall.
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, for me to ask our student-athletes to return to campus to play a game when other students are not going to be returning,” Manuel said on a “Get Lit” virtual town hall with Edyoucore, a financial literacy advocacy group. “That is just unfathomable to me as I think about it. I could listen to arguments and be a part of discussions, but it is just hard for me to imagine that happening.”
Hopefully another month of data and more expert knowledge about this virus, and a massive boost in testing by then, will give the conference and universities a clearer view of what to expect this fall. I find it almost impossible to think CFB won't happen in some form during the 2020-2021 school year. The financial blow to colleges and athletic departments would be catastrophic if it simply didn't happen. I think a modified schedule (nine conference games only starting in mid to late September) with no fans in attendance is the most likely scenario to have a CFB season this year...at least thats the thinking as of right now. Bowl games would almost certainly be scrapped...although I could see the CFB playoff happening...but likely just 2 teams instead of 4.

Another scenario that's been floated is pushing the CFB season to spring of 2021. I think it's possible, but would create a logistical mess with spring sports and the NFL draft. But in a world where everything has been disrupted, I guess anything is possible.

Hopefully the next 30 days will continue to shed more light on this virus and what we can all expect in the months ahead. Like all of you, I love sports...and even in these strange times, I think sports could really help bring us all together. I just hope we begin to see more answers than questions.

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