It really is wild to think about how much the college sports landscape has changed in the last few days. Remember, it was just eight days ago that the Big Ten proudly trotted out their fall football schedule, with games kicking off on September 5th. Less than a week later, the season – along with that of the Pac-12 – had been pushed back to the spring, a shocking about-face that no one could have seen coming at this time last week.
So that’s the bad news, but the good news is that despite the Big Ten’s decision, the other three power conferences appear to be holding steady… for now. If anything, Greg Sankey seemed to publicly question the Big Ten and Pac 12’s decision when it happened, saying that he would “look forward” to seeing the data that led to those conferences making the decision they did. The Big 12 had their own call on Tuesday night and deemed it safe to push forward and same with the ACC on Thursday afternoon.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) August 11, 2020
Still, as calm as the last few days have been, we know that things can change in an instant.
Which bears the question: What has to happen between now and September 26th for us to actually get games on the field Week 1? Let’s take a look
1. We can’t have a crazy uptick in cases when students get back to campus – and if we do, we need to get them under control quickly
Listen, we all know that the reason the SEC decided to push back it’s start to September 26th was to buy themselves as much time as possible before having to make any final decision on what football will look like in the fall. That doesn’t mean that we will get football. Just that the league wants to cross every threshold imaginable before making any final decisions.
More than anything however, the push back to September 26th was for one reason specifically: Everyone wants to know what will happen when the college football summer bubble bursts and normal students come back to campus. Cases will almost certainly rise. The question is how much? How badly is football impacted? And can the doctors keep it under control?
Again, to be abundantly clear, it’s inevitable positive cases are coming. And we know that the media won’t hesitate to jump in and opine every time it happens. The questions become: Do we have to shut down practices? If so, how many schools? And how quickly can we resume normal football activities after that shutdown? It goes without saying that if it’s just a few players, or even a team or two which might have to shut down practices to get things under control, that’s one thing. If it’s half the conference, that’s quite another.
If there is one piece of good news out of this week it’s that, in what can only be described as a miniscule sample size, the early returns are good. Notre Dame – which has had an insanely low rate of positive tests with its football team during the summer – had its entire student body tested when they returned to campus last week. Incredibly, 99.7 percent of students came back negative.
There’s no way to know what that will mean for anyone else. But we can certainly hope this is a trend that is going in the right direction.
2. Can players safely practice once the pads go on
This was the other reason that the SEC decided to push back the season as long as they possibly could: To see what would happen when, you know, actual football stuff started happening. Understand, it’s one thing to keep the virus under control while socially distancing in the weight room. It’s quite another when players are blocking, tackling and hitting.
So what will happen? Absolutely no one knows, but we will find out in the coming weeks.
The good news is that by pushing back until September 26th, college football gets to see how everyone else handles things. NFL training camps will pick up here in the next week or two, and high school football is already under way.
We will get loads of data in the coming weeks before college football programs have to make any big decisions.
3. The Group of 5’s have to continue on with their season as well
One of the quiet saving graces of the college football season so far is that several Group of 5 conferences appear ready to push forward alongside their Power 5 brethren and play in the fall. The AAC – home of Central Florida, Houston and a few other solid programs – appears to want to play. It’s the same in the Sun Belt, and just yesterday, Conference USA said they will push forward as well. Some (the MAC, Mountain West) have canceled. But others are ready to press on.
This is good on any number of levels.
One, never forget that the ACC and Big 12 still plan on playing a single out of conference game as part of their schedule. This helps those two conferences fill out their schedules if need be. It will also help give this season more of a “normal” look to it, as it would be weird if we had three Power 5 conferences playing (the SEC, ACC and Big 12) and no one else.
Greg Sankey has said previously that he’d like to have at least three Power 5’s and a few Group of 5 conferences play this season. And at least so far, we’re trending that way.
4. We get no more bad news on long-term side effects
Look, we have all read the reports on Myocarditis, the heart condition that is now linked with those who have suffered from coronavirus. It is clearly serious. I would never pretend it isn’t. At the same time, it seems as though the doctors of the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have all evaluated the risks and believe that it is safe to play. Given what is at stake, and that these are doctors – and not football coaches or even administrators – saying this, I’m guessing they aren’t handing out that medical advice lightly.
Therefore, the three Power 5’s that want to play seem to – at least for now – have moved past the fear of Myocarditis. But there are also still a full five weeks left in the season. Which means we could learn more about Myocarditis during the time between now and the first kickoff. Or we could learn of some other long-term side effect of Covid-19 which we aren’t even considering right now.
To be abundantly clear: No one wants to play football if it isn’t safe. But hopefully no more bad news emerges that we don’t already know about.
5. We get no more bad news from outside of the college football world
While I’m glad the SEC pushed back the start of the season until September 26th to gather as much information as possible on coronavirus, the bad news is… we don’t start the season until September 26th. And unfortunately it means that any bad piece of information we get between now and then will be used as proof that college football shouldn’t be played.
Whether it’s cases in the public, cases on campus or just cases in other sports, everything will be used against college football. And assuming it’s nothing crazy, college administrators need to stay calm and see the forest through the trees. Remember how bad baseball was just a week ago? Now, it seems like for the most part they have everything under control.
To the credit of the leaders of the SEC, ACC and Big 12, they haven’t acted emotionally to this point.
Let’s hope they continue to do the same going forward.