Let’s take a time machine back to March 11, 2020. I remember taking my dog for a walk before dinner, finally enjoying some warm weather. But when I got back home, a story was developing. My timeline, my television, my texts - everything was talking about one thing.
An NBA game between the Jazz and Thunder was being cancelled due to players having contracted COVID-19. Even as players left the court during warmups and spectators slowly migrated out of their seats, nobody could have anticipated what the next six months might hold.
What’s happened since then has been a whirlwind. And yes, even just in the sports world. Leagues shut down, some have started back up, bubbles formed, MLB nearly fell apart again, NBA players may strike the rest of the playoffs, fall college football schedules have been overhauled (or fully canceled).
This week, one week before Labor Day, the de facto opening weekend for college football, we stand with more questions than answers. We think the football season will begin in September, but it’s far from a guarantee. Might some conferences elect to play in the spring, and would it even make sense to do that? What is college basketball going to do? Does 2020 finally cause the schism between the Power 5 and the Group of 5, the haves and the have-nots?
As always, we asked you, dear readers.
There seems to be a growing movement among the conferences that have cancelled their seasons, namely the Big 10 and the Pac 12, to attempt a spring season. There’s plenty of issues involved, such as the weather in the midwest during the spring, and the fact that the College Football Playoff has no intention on moving off of New Year’s Day.
There’s also the issue of having teams effectively play two seasons in one calendar year. Spring football practice beats players up enough that injuries can last through the fall season, what would full contact games do to a team? Would those teams try to have their fall schedules pushed back or otherwise shortened? There’s no easy answers here, and it seems like most of you agree.
The one idea I’ve had that I think makes sense is as follows: instead of trying to create a whole season in the spring, why not supplement spring practice with a 2-3 game “exhibition schedule”. Spring games have officially outlived their usefulness, and the teams that don’t play any games in the 2020 season will be at a massive disadvantage in 2021. Plus, there are rivalries that schools will want to keep “uninterrupted” which will rake in some television dollars, as well. The games won’t have any real impact outside of bragging rights, and sure, some players may opt out in favor of preparing for the NFL. But for the players involved, it will be a good way to get real game experience, while not having to expose themselves to the rigors of 20+ games in 10 months.
I just don’t see how this can happen for the whole college basketball season. Perhaps, if every school in a conference moves to offering online-only classes, players could move in to a bubble to play games. But how long can that last? Are you going to keep them there for 3+ months?
There’s also the fact that I’m not sure mid-major conferences would be able to support this financially. You’d be asking these schools to forgo using their own dorms in favor of housing teams in another city for an extended period of time, plus feeding them and providing them enough incentive to be there that it doesn’t feel like a prison after a few weeks. The SEC can do this. The Horizon League? I’m not so sure.
Finally, a question with some true disagreement.
I’ve been on record as saying I think the Power 5 and NCAA structure was not long for this world, with the end of the Big 12’s tv deal in 2025 as a likely instigator in an overhaul. I obviously didn’t account for 2020.
What we’re seeing this year is a divide between conferences that can take a punch financially and get back up, and those that simply can’t. And even within the Power 5, there’s a spectrum of situations among the schools. If worst comes to worst and there is no football season, Auburn will be able to recover. Washington State? Texas Tech? Boston College? I’m not so sure. These schools rely on their conference payouts, and without them for a year, they could enter a death spiral that they don’t recover from.
And yet, these schools will still be in a better spot than G5 programs.
The financial situation aside, the clear lack of leadership on anything that matters (health & safety, schedule realignment, social justice, NIL rights) leads me to one conclusion - does the NCAA even matter anymore? To smaller conferences relying on a web of connection to the power conferences, maybe. But the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12 were all essentially left out to dry when trying to figure out how to handle COVID, and as a result each conference is handling matters on its own.
Let’s pretend for a moment the NCAA had some teeth, and attempted to enforce a nationwide cancellation of college football. It’s my belief that the stubborn-as-a-mule SEC would have ignored this mandate, and decided it would play anyways. And do you think that ESPN and CBS would have payed them any less to air their games? Of course not!
And if that had been the case, why would other conferences feel the need to be governed by an archaic ruling body that did nothing but cause issues for the conferences, when just as much money could be found without them?
Do I think its likely? Probably not. But 2020 has seen weirder storylines, that’s for sure.