Realistic scenarios for the next two College Football seasons
by Adam Rossow, July 9, 2020
The summer resurgence of the coronavirus has rendered an on-time, as-scheduled start to the upcoming college football season impossible.
We’re not getting college football as we know and love it in 2020. The virus is going to dictate when/how/if the season is played.
The top priority must be the safety of the student-athletes. Football players aren’t getting paid. If public health officials believe that’s compromised by playing, then call it off.
Right now, that’s the case. There’s not a proven way to ensure the safety of student-athletes, coaches and support staffs on every campus when fall camps are supposed begin August 7.
It’s time to stop the hyperbole and public relations spin. It’s time for solutions, or at the least, reasonable options for the next two college football seasons.
Option 1: Conference-only, nine-game schedule in 2020, full season in 2021
Fall Camp: September 5-6 (34 days before opener)
Opening Week: October 9-10
Conference Championship Games: January 1-2
Playoff/NY6 Bowls: January 8-15
2021 Schedule Unchanged
This option eliminates non-conference and bowl games for 2020, other than the New Years Six and College Football Playoff. It keeps all FBS teams on the same calendar, with two bye weeks (Wk 4, Wk 8) for added flexibility to deal with possible cancelations or complications from the virus.
The schedule comes out to nine games in 11 weeks, with the regular-season finales on December 17 and 18. A buffer week before conference championship games is included to account for any canceled games from earlier in the season because of an outbreak.
I’d suspect this would be the option preferred by athletic directors around the country. A full schedule in 2021 means more revenue for cash-strapped departments. It would also mean at least two more home games for most Power 5 teams.
Anything close to “normal” could offset some of the losses from ticket revenue in 2020. That’s going to be substantial as a maximum attendance of 15-25 percent of stadium capacity seems likely in this option. Social distancing will be practiced. Masks will be required.
One potential issue is playing into the third week of December at outdoor stadiums without heated surfaces. The average temperatures are too cold in some parts of the country to have reliable and safe playing surfaces. I was at the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl. Not ideal.
For a conference like the Big Ten, I’d propose an East-West showcase at domed fields in Detroit, Minneapolis and Indianapolis for the final two weeks of the season. Each team would sacrifice a home game against a cross-divisional foe to play at the neutral site closest to the home team’s campus if possible.
Option 2: Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 conference-only, nine-game schedules
Spring 2021 Camp: January 2-3 (34 days before opener)
Opening Week: February 5-6
Conference Championship Games: April 30-May 1
Playoff/NY6 Bowls: May 8-15 (Practices can continue for non-playoff/NY6 teams through May 15)
Fall 2021 Camp: September 3-4 (34 Days before opener)
Opening Week: October 8-9
Conference Championship Games: December 31-January 1
Playoff/NY6: Jan 7-15
Other Bowl Games: Dec 27-Jan 22
Moving the season to the spring gives everyone more time to understand the virus. Protocols can be put in place to mitigate the spread. The successes and failures during restarts of professional sports leagues can be learned from and adjusted. There’s also an outside chance of an approved vaccine.
The 2020 season would be again be conference-only games in this option, played from February-May in 2021. This option eliminates non-conference games and bowl games for the spring, except for the New Years Six and College Football Playoff.
It also allows teams which do not qualify for the postseason to continue practicing until the National Championship game. This would act as a pseudo-spring football, with somewhere between 7-10 practice days available from April 30 to May 15.
This option calls for conference-only schedules in the 2021 season as well.
The timeline for playing twice in a calendar year is already accelerated, so I don’t expect many health experts to authorize playing 21 or 24 regular season games in an 11-month span. Proper recovery, healing time and strength build-up are important to injury prevention. Player safety shouldn’t be compromised, even if the virus is under control.
There would be approximately 111 days between the end of the spring season and the beginning of fall camp. That’s slightly more than the normal break from spring football practice to fall camp for most FBS programs.
Both the spring and fall seasons are structured with nine games in 11 weeks. They would again have bye weeks in Week 4 and Week 8 for all FBS teams to accommodate cancelations or postponements. The buffer week between the end of the regular season and the conference championship games would also be available.
The same issues with cold weather would be there in both the spring and fall seasons. I’d propose beginning the spring season with two weeks of neutral-site games (February 5 and 12) and ending the fall season with two weeks of the same (December 11 and 18).
Bowl games would return, in some form, after the Fall 2021 season.
Hypothetical Big Ten 2020-2021 Schedule (Option 2)