As the clock ticks down toward the beginning of large-scale workouts, it’s starting to look less likely that the 2020 college football season will begin on time, let alone if it will happen in the fall.
In May, it was looking like things could get back to normal in time for football and the other fall sports. But with the recent and dramatic rise in cases in college football’s epicenter, the South, particularly in Florida and Texas, that is now much less likely.
The bellwether is the Ivy League, who were the first to cancel their postseason basketball tournament when the COVID-19 pandemic began striking at the heart of sports in the United States back in March.
According to Bruce Feldman and Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic ($):
“Multiple football coaches in the Ivy League told The Athletic over the weekend that they expect Wednesday’s announcement to be that the league is moving all fall sports, including football, to spring 2021. The coaches spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conference has not announced its final decision.”
As they did in March, it is expected that conferences across the nation may likely follow suit, although that’s less of a given than it was a few months ago.
While some conferences and key figures have expressed little doubt about starting classes - and sports - on time, the reality on the ground is making that a pipe dream. The conferences themselves are left to figure out their own paths forward, as the NCAA has remained largely silent regarding standards for competition, and given that plicies around large gatherings of people vary from state to state, and often vary within the states themselves.
So Wednesday is a big day, when we might see the first dominoes to fall regarding if we have college football, or any college sports at all, this fall.
Right now, here are the most likely options, along with how they would potentially affect the UCF Knights’ football program:
The season starts on time, and is played in full.
Why this is good: FOOTBALL!
Why this is bad: This would likely take place under the guide of few to no fans in the stands, limited rosters due to occasional COVID spikes within locker rooms, and less-than-mysterious disappearances of players and coaches from availability week to week due to “illness”. Logistically, it would be an extremely heavy lift for schools to pull off, especially among the Group of Five and below, who would have to front additional infrastructure to manage however many fans might be in attendance, if that attendance is allowed.
And if it is, who gets to attend? High-roller donors? Lottery winners? Students? Parents and friends only? And if students are not allowed on campus, then why, if you’re a college football player, should you assemble together to play a game for the entertainment of others? This has “administrative nightmare” written all over it.
How it affects UCF: This might not be the best option overall from a financial standpoint. While the coaches and players get a full season out of this, the logistics will be difficult, and with no or very few fans in the stands, that will blow a massive hole in UCF’s budget.
Likelihood: Minimal and getting lower by the day.
A shortened, conference-only fall schedule.
Conferences play 8- or 9-game conference-only schedules, abandoning non-conference play, as well as possibly the conference title games, bowls, and the College Football Playoff. The polls would determine the National Championship. It’ll be a throwback to 1984.
Why this is good: FOOTBALL! It’ll be wild, but this will at least buy us some time to get the pandemic under control, unlike what we did this summer. Plus, it’ll be a sprint to the finish. Some new things will be tried out, like one Big Ten coach’s recent flotation of scheduling only home-and-homes within the conference.
Why this is bad: The non-A5 schools will get screwed. No non-conference schedule means no buy games and everyone gets stuck on their own island. Coming off a season where we had nine non-A5 teams finish in the final Top 25, this would be a devastating blow to the progress leagues like The American have made in the national eye, let alone their members’ bank accounts.
How it affects UCF: Again, this is a budget-buster, and probably the worst of all options. Given that UCF has two games against ACC teams on the original slate (North Carolina and at Georgia Tech), it’s a major hit to the Knights’ national prospects in a season where UCF comes in with a senior-laden roster looking to improve upon last season’s 10-3 mark.
Likelihood: Increasing, but not great.
Move it all back to the spring and hope for the best.
Why this is good: This buys us the maximum possible time frame to combat the virus, while possibly still allowing for a full regular season. It also gives schools and conferences the flexibility to have the full slate or perhaps still go conference-only if the outbreak is still ravaging. Plus, if things go well, that means we could have fans in the stands, potentially even at full capacity. The more options you have, the better.
Why this is bad: Football will likely have to start in February or March, once the weather up north calms down sufficiently to actually go outside. Plus, many NFL Draft prospects might skip out altogether, eschewing the risk of an injury weeks, or perhaps days, from April’s NFL Draft (the NFL has reportedly said they are not going to push the Draft back, according to USA Today’s Dan Wolken).
How it affects UCF: Any possibility of having a full schedule with fans in the stands is a good one for UCF’s bottom line. However, with a number of potential NFL players on the roster, it’s likely you’ll see many of them forego the season, which would definitely have an impact on the field. Weather wouldn’t be much of a factor in the early part of the season, but in the latter part of the year, it’s going to get hot. That could be an advantage.
Likelihood: Increasing by the day.
There is a fourth option, which could make for the most chaos: Every conference for themselves.
Should that happen, and we get a fracturing of the FBS landscape, combined with the added financial pressures on all sides, we might see the end of college football as we know it, and the major conferences, with their TV contract negotiation windows opening in short order, could decide they’ve had enough, blame the NCAA for either lack of leadership or overstepping its bounds (as the SEC’s Greg Sankey did in March), and hit the eject button, as they have openly floated before.
If that happens, hold on to your knickers, because if you thought the wait until the Ivies’ decision on Wednesday is going to be bad, it’s going to be a nerve-racking next few years for the future of UCF sports.