College Football In The Spring? Seriously?

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The idea of college football in the Spring is gaining some momentum. The surge in impetus lacks justifiable argument, but it is there none the less. Hey, when someone with the gravitas of Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley says the idea needs to be on the table, it is going to be put there. Conversely, when we talked with Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin several weeks ago, he also said the idea needed to be on the table…..just way at the very end of the table. Essentially, if this is the family Thanksgiving table, this belongs closer to the kids table, near the green bean casserole.

Most who follow the sport acknowledge there must be a Fall sports season, including college football. Not because we are concerned about your tailgate parties, if you even pay the money to go to the games. The vast majority of college football fans are sitting at home watching the games. Their money is doing none of the talking in this debate.

College Football In The Spring? Seriously?

We have to start with the premise that college sports needs more of a conversation.  There is a financial calamity lurking if all college sports are erased for the year. This is not a topic where we can justifiably shrug our shoulders as if that is just the way it goes. This is not pro sports with billionaire owners collecting on their catastrophe insurance if there is no season. These are educational institutions that, wrongly so, have banked much of their public profile on what happens with their athletic departments. Post-season success and championship rings equals increases in applications for incoming freshmen, bigger donations from boosters, and more money allocated to capital works projects on the campuses.

Now, as the country faces a scientifically proven pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen in 100 years, schools are staring a financial abyss square in the eyes.

The Financial Crevasse

Few schools will fully open in the Fall. Most are doing some hybrid of on-line and in-person instruction. That means a huge monetary loss in housing fees, dining hall revenue, and proceeds from other on-campus activities. With a lot of belt-tightening going on across the country, donations to the school, or the athletic department specifically, are going to be scarce. Now cancel the Fall sports. Ticket revenue tanks, even for those who were going to have limited fan participation. And then the nuclear bomb drops….the loss of TV contracts and the shared revenue that comes from bowl games and the playoffs.

College Football In The Spring
GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 28: A ESPN college football camera before the Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semi final game between the Clemson Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 28, 2019 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There are more than a few schools who will never be able to recover from that. Every school in the country already got a one-time bailout in May from the federal COVID emergency fund. There won’t be another any time soon. Sure, the University of Alabama will survive, but will Memphis? UCF? Iowa St? Minnesota? There will be some of the P5 schools and certainly more of the Group of Five schools that will struggle to withstand the financial pitfalls. Non-revenue sports will be the first to go, which means thousands of student-athletes will lose their access to go to college. Certainly the fallout will not be contained to sports. Academic programs will be cut since so many are inappropriately at the whim of the athletic department revenue streams. There will be a quake throughout the college systems that will be felt across the country and for years to come.

That gets us back to the idea of moving the season to the Spring. Its intent is to ensure that there even is a football season, or something with all of the sports that would have been in the Fall.

The Unanswered Spring Checklist

While a handful of people are jumping on the bandwagon each week, few, if any are acknowledging the flaws in its excessive simplicity. The questions that come with the move are being addressed by virtually no one. The Dallas Morning News ran a piece Sunday advocating for such a move. They said the only “minus” was, “Football recruits who planned to enroll in college next spring would miss their senior seasons.” Really?

Certainly, the list of obstacles for a Spring season is much, much longer than that.

  • We must proceed with any plan on the assumption that this is a one-year aberration. We will have the answers to go forward as planned next season. To play this season in the Spring means you are going to be asking the players who are back for the 2021 Fall season to play 24 games in a 12-month calendar. If we are going to bail out on Fall 2020 for the safety of the players, then let’s be real. The NFL players don’t even play 24 games in a 12-month calendar and they are well paid. You would be ending the revised college season sometime in May. You have to cancel the off-season “voluntary” workout to let them rest for a month, and then have them back in camp by mid to late July for a regularly scheduled 2021 season. It is physically absurd to ask that of college players.
  • What do you do with the early graduates? You know…the ones who did everything we ask of them in that they played sports and actually finished academically ahead of time, in December? Are you going to have them take some nonsense ballroom dancing class to keep them eligible through the new Spring season. That keeps them on scholarship on the school’s dime? And all in the name of letting them play in the Spring.
  • What about the early enrollees? Do you really think kids who are two months out of high school are going to be ready to play full-speed college football without the Spring training camp they usually get? Or will we keep them out completely? Some states are unsure if there is going to be a Fall high school football season. That means academically, they may be ready to enroll in college in January, but may not have played football since their junior year of high school.
  • Take the top five players of your favorite school’s roster and assume they will not play. Now this is no reason not to move the season, but Ohio State fans better be prepared to say goodbye to Justin Fields now. Clemson fans, you will have seen the last of Trevor Lawrence if the season moves to the Spring. The best of the draft eligible players, and those who think they are better than they are, are not going to risk injury against a 1-4 Rutgers team or an 0-5 Wake Forest team. Not when the games coincide with the NFL combine, pro days, and the NFL draft. Again, we are just preparing you for the inevitable with this one.
  • Moving the entire post-season takes more than just some keyboard strokes on a computer. We may laugh at the “Zippity-Do-Dah Bowl” every year, with its 17,000 people in attendance. And rightfully so. But the cities that host those games count on the 17,000 visitors for hotels, restaurants, and retail sales. And TV contracts are tied to them. There are 41 bowl games, not including the playoffs. Go ahead. Tell me your plans and schedules to move every single one of them to May-June.

Unlike Any Other Time

The games should never take precedent over the health of the student-athletes, the coaches, and the staffs. And there is too much ridiculous talk about how these are young players who can overcome the virus. That last point, so often pointed out by fans who are too myopic about having their games back, ignores the fact that Nick Saban and Mack Brown are 68 years old, and vulnerable to the virus. Les Miles is 67. Herm Edwards is 66. David Cutcliffe is 65. It is a long list of head coaches and assistants in the same AARP age bracket, and they go home to families.

College Football In The Spring
AUBURN, ALABAMA – NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts to head linesman Thomas Eaton during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This is a multi-layer problem. Most conferences have made their plans for shortened seasons. That is closer to reality and puts them closer to playing. Let the season be pushed back by a month into late September. You will be closer to full participation by more schools. Most are playing all conference schedules or all conference +1. There is a way to get in some of the games against lesser opponents…the ones that are desperate for the money.

There are clear and specific ways to get it all in. If you are in the camp of moving to Spring, there needs to be a way that no one has shown. We don’t want schools soaping up the windows and locking the doors due to financial hardships. But you’ve got to do better than to think you can hit a few keystrokes on a computer and just move the calendar. You owe us a plan. The devil is always in the details.

6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Agree that Spring College Football is half-baked, but I think the possibility of a September-starting season is even more so. Hospital loads from the current wave of infections are not likely to peak in FL, TX, AZ, and CA until the first week of August, and even that could be delayed if more forceful stay-at-home orders are not put into place in the next two weeks. The idea that there will be a public appetite to reopen for sporting entertainment four weeks later is nonsense.

    The one and only answer, as painful and destructive as it might be, is to cancel the 2020 college football season altogether and begin coordinating and planning for holding a safe 2021 season.

    By the way, the cynical side of me says that the only reason there is talk of a spring season is because AD’s want to hold onto that season ticket money as long as they can. Nebraska’s Bill Moos has even suggested that Husker fans are so good and understanding, “most” of them will not demand refunds. Good, understanding, and, if true, credulous!

    1. The percentage of revenue college football teams get from holding on to your season ticket money is a pittance compared to the potential loss of TV revenue, the loss of revenue from Learfield/IMG broadcasts and the sponsorship revenue. Those are enough to force the end of olympic sports scholarships at many schools. As for Moos and his comments, there are several states that have imposing a refund in full, within 30 days for cancelled events, but not postponed events. It is an accounting nightmare for many schools, but a mere inconvenience compared to everything else going on.

  2. Clear, though in a time of scarcity even a pittance counts.

    That said, I read that the University of Alabama will loose $200 m. (a cool 1/5 of a billion dollars!) if they play games without fans in the seats this season. Help us understand that number, please.

    1. We saw that number in a blog site. We talked to SEC administrators and it was clear the number was overblown by $100 million. It depends, of course, if they play all games, and then if there are fans, etc. The season opener against USC is like a prize fighter with each boxer getting a guarantee. Both teams will collect $6million with or without fans in the stands. If Bama plays a 12 game schedule with no fans, the loss figure is closer to $100 million. Bama could likely sustain that short term. Most schools will lose less, but have less wiggle room for financial losses.

  3. Sorry, should have included Moos’ money quote apropos to my above comment:

    “If you are not in a position to make a financial commitment, or need to opt out of your
    tickets this year, I ask that you consider a 100% tax-deductible donation to the Huskers
    Athletic Fund at a level that is financially feasible for you,” Moos wrote.

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