With all of the punditry going on, and opinions not keeping up with the constantly changing news in the college football world, it is worth it sometimes to take a step back, take a deep breath, and gather ourselves. Where is CFB right now? It helps in trying to figure out where we are and how we got it here, as well as what comes next.
Where Is CFB Right Now?
Ivy League and Patriot League Cancel Fall Sports:
This means absolutely bupkis when it comes to what the Power 5 conferences do. Any attempts to connect the strings is silly. It was an easy decision. None of the Ivy League schools and most of the Patriot League schools do not do athletic scholarships. No student’s existence on campus was put in jeopardy with the decision. Furthermore, neither conference has any significant money tied up in major tv contracts. No offense to anyone, but the loss of the Holy Cross versus Colgate football game does not have national implications. The other athletic programs at these schools are not dependent on football and basketball revenue for their sustainability. Frankly, neither is a new library or science lab. The same cannot be said for the major athletic programs in this country.
Pac 12/Big 10 Announce Conference-Only Schedules for 2020 Football
This has been the most logical next step for months. Anyone who thought we were going to have a regular season starting in late August and “play through it,” has not been paying attention to the geography of the outbreak, particularly in the last three weeks. The only places not hit hard are the ones with few people. We have been on numerous conference calls with coaches and administrators from many part of the country. Arizona State’s Herm Edwards told us, “You have to have a plan, and the plan has to have a back-up plan, and you have to have a back-up plan for that.” He said otherwise, you don’t really have a plan at all.
Conference commissioners have been talking on a nearly daily basis for months. This has been the most logical step for quite some time. The idea of the season playing out as though nothing different was happening was built on unicorns and leprechauns, and those do not equate to an actual strategy. It would be naive to think this is a back-up plan. That would indicate that playing the full season as-is was the original plan. Few, if any involved, in the game on a daily basis saw that as an option for at least the last month.
This is more of an, “Ok, here is our plan on how to deal with this.” Some are taking last week’s announcements as a sign that we are closer to no college football, because games against New Mexico and Florida Atlantic have been cut. Others look at it as an actual structural plan that allows everyone to delay the start of the season, postpone bringing student-athletes on campus for the start of Summer/Fall camp for at least another month, and have some flexibility to change up as needed.
As of this publishing, the conferences have simply lopped off the out of conference games and the schedule starts with the first conference game already on the books. Those schedules are very subject to change and movement as needed even before a late September start date.
The SEC, ACC, and Big XII Have Yet To Announce Their Plans
Go back to the part where conference commissioners have been talking weekly or even daily for months. New Big 10 commissioner Kevin Warren jumped the starter’s gun when he announced the conference’s plans last week ahead of everyone else. The hope for some time was a unified message. Time to get to that back-up plan for the others.
The SEC was slated to announce its plans on Monday but delayed them. It is complex for their schools as well as for the ACC. Teams in those conferences only play eight league games. The other three Power 5 conference teams each plays nine conference games. So does the SEC allow its teams to keep one of their historically soft, regional, non-conference games to get to nine, along with everyone else? Or do they add a ninth conference game and does that set the new standard going forward?
The Big XII already plays the perfect schedule with each team playing everyone else in the conference. For them, they are just waiting to see what the other two conferences do.
In all likelihood, the new kid on the block, Warren, will hear the opinions of his colleagues on the Big 10 announcing first at some point very soon.
Dropping Games Against Smaller Teams
This will be financially devastating to the Arkansas State’s, Charlotte’s, and Mercer’s of the world. They have long been whipping boys who show up to play SEC and ACC teams, and get a huge payout in exchange. Both sides take criticism for the games; one for scheduling a patsy, the other for subjecting their players to a beat down in exchange for the school getting paid. But those games pay out enough to fund the entire athletic department for a year or more at the smaller schools.
University of Alabama-Birmingham already shut down its football program once, in 2014 due to budget issues. It fought back like crazy to come back in 2017, and now will go have to go through the re-analysis process again, as it likely loses a big money game against Miami this Fall.
All it takes is being dropped from one to two games in a season, and the entire athletic department budget blows up. There are already 18 schools that have cut college athletic teams from their offerings this year. Anything from women’s tennis, to baseball, to soccer, and track & field. Some of these student-athletes currently on the rosters will be afforded the chance to stay, but certainly not all. This is budget cutting after all. Getting people off the free-ride is a box to check.
And the programs will be gone for years to come, which means the thousands currently in high school who thought this was a way to help them get to the college of their choice are now on the outside looking in. And did we mention, this is just the tip of the iceberg? Iowa State athletic director Jaime Pollard estimates the school will lose $40 million in revenue with no Fall sports. What are the odds they keep all the teams/scholarships?
Stanford Cuts 11 Sports
This was seismic. This happened before they lost the Notre Dame football game as the Pac 12 went to conference only play. Stanford is a private university that charges upwards of $50,000 per year for undergrad studies. It is not subject to the financial whims of the state government budget. It also has one of the wealthiest alumni donor bases outside the Ivy League. At least one-third of its previous slate of intercollegiate athletic teams had private endowment money placed against them. The fact that 11 teams had to be cut already before they even lost any revenue under the current wave was eye opening.
The school is very generous in its admissions finances. It has significant discounts for families making less than $150,000 per year, and even more so for those making under $75,000 per year. But is the budget already that tight at one of the elite schools in the nation? Those who lost their spot this year will get to stay at school. But for those who wished to play men’s volleyball in the future, Stanford is no longer a college option.
Two months ago this was laughable. Coaches hated the thought of it. They don’t like it any better now. But a very few are coming to the realization that it may be the only option to play.
The upside: You can play all 12 games in a schedule between February and May. Presumably the country will be further along in its management of the virus. That is it. That is the upside.
The downside: The list is long. Too many pundits and pontificators shrug their collective shoulders and say the Spring is the only option. Without fail they don’t address the issues. There is no agreement from the TV networks to maintain the same level of coverage, and more importantly, money in the Spring. They will be in the midst of conference basketball tournaments and March Madness, and other such Spring events. What about next year’s players? You can’t claim to be concerned about the well being of the athletes and then ask them to play 24 games in 12 months with only 4-6 weeks off in between.
There is no NCAA guidance on early grads from December and their eligibility, or early enrollees from high school. And of course, every coach would have to own up to having to lose their top 10 players to sitting out. They won’t risk injury while the NFL combine, pro days, and draft are going on. And please stop saying the NFL can adjust. If you have missed the news, they have given a firm no to adjusting their Spring schedule.
So, one good option for Spring, with a complete lack of answers for the obstacles from those who advocate for it.
The one thing that you can see even if you do get lost in the daily swirl of news…the lack of leadership at the top of college sports has damaged the ability to get answers. The NCAA lacks the authority to run college football. The leg work is all done by the conferences, mostly the Power 5. Over the years they have gained the autonomy to run the game on their own. But no one saw this coming. Now, as each state is on its own to figure out its own path through the pandemic, so each conference must deal with all of the states in its conference, as well as the individual schools. It makes it virtually impossible to come up with one answer. Throw in the G5 schools from the smaller conferences who are hanging on by a financial thread, and there are few right answers.
What is consistent is the news seems to change daily…..likely by the time this is even published.