The Big Ten announced early last week that the fall sports season has been postponed till the spring. After the announcement, various protests and petitions started to try and reverse the decision. Now, this begs the question, Will Wisconsin play College Football in 2020?
Those attempts were quickly extinguished. Commissioner Kevin Warren then reiterated this week that the decision remains final. There have been numerous reports that several Big Ten teams still intend to try and play in the fall season. The Wisconsin Badgers are among those rumored teams. However, it seems that momentum for these schools is slipping away. So where do we go from here? Well first, let us begin with what brought us to this point.
COVID 19 x NCAA Leadership
The Coronavirus has been ravaging the world, and most notably the United States for the last six months. In that time, we’ve seen the world come to a screeching halt, and slowly begin to restart. But, that’s with lots of protocols and safety guidelines to help bring back some sense of normalcy from before. Sports have been as much a symbol of our return to life as any business or institution. Professional sports leagues such as the NBA, NHL, and MLS took the downtime to plan an incredible return via a bubble format. Not only have these formats worked, but they’ve flourished, proving a return to sports in a pandemic is possible in the US.
Meanwhile, the NCAA quickly flashed its colors of incompetency, historical ineptitude, and flat out procrastination. We touched on this in a previous article. As it became clear that the problem wasn’t going away, the NCAA still tried to give itself as much time to avoid making a decision. Instead, conferences had to rely on their own tools and medical advice to find a solution for a season. Wisconsin, under the jurisdiction of the Big Ten, saw their season moved to the spring. Schools in the SEC, for example, saw their leadership attempt to play in the fall. Now, what once was a unifying force for the country has followed it’s divide, and now is split into two fragmented parties. Those who will play this fall, and those who will not.
Where do the athletes go from here?
As of right now, the Big Ten stated that athletes have access to facilities for the allotted 20 hours a week as if they were in season. This is a good decision, but the question begs that if they are allowed to practice, why can’t they play? There have already been a number of athletes who have decided to forgo a spring season and move onto NFL Draft preparation. Most notably, Penn State’s Micah Parsons and Purdue’s Rondale Moore.
Will Wisconsin be hit with early departures? The NCAA announced it intends to renew eligibility for all athletes that miss a season this fall. Will that be enough to convince guys to stay? For regular average joe players, sure, but high profile players? Not a chance. Wisconsin will likely lose offensive lineman and possible first-round pick Cole Van Lanen. Other than that though, there aren’t many guys that look to be on the NFL draft radar this year. They could lose seniors if they decide to not use their extra year of eligibility, but even that headcount is pretty low for contributors. There is only one scenario where we could see a mass exodus from the program.
Transfers. The transfer market stocked with Big Ten football players because of a canceled fall season could happen. This is where Wisconsin could hurt. Transferring right now is a big unknown, but if the NCAA decides to let a free one-time waiver for transfers then there could be a mass exodus for every program not playing. This would put these schools, Wisconsin included, far behind their counterparts in other conferences simply because they’re adhering to the medical advice that has been given to them.
As we continue examining the question, Will Wisconsin play College Football in 2020, is the Spring a viable option? The Big Ten has maintained they will do everything they can to ensure a spring season. Before announcing the suspension of the season, they had released a full conference only schedule for each of the teams. One would imagine these schedules would stay intact. For Wisconsin, a weak schedule sees them miss both Penn State and Ohio State. If this were a normal season, they’d have a real shot at the playoff.
Speaking of the playoff…
As for a postseason, with more than half the teams as well as the College Football Playoff still committed to the fall, a playoff format would be unlikely.
So this will lead to a glorified regular season, with it ending at the Big Ten championship? There are very few answers to the endless list of questions currently pertaining to the Big Ten’s current landscape.
Where can Wisconsin Go From Here?
Well, it has become clear the only opportunity to play for the Badgers will come in the spring. This means the season calendar is flipped. Fall becomes the evaluation period that was formally the spring, and spring becomes the regular season.
Many analysts and talking heads doubt a season will even take place. Logistically, it will be very, very difficult. How will they (presumably) rejoin the rest of the NCAA on time to start the next season if they deem it safe to do so? Surely they wouldn’t put these student-athletes through two grueling high-level football seasons in a span of less than a year?
So for now, athletes at Wisconsin and in the Big Ten will be able to use the fall to train, in hopes of a spring season. Will Wisconsin play college football in 2020? If so, it will look very different. But, this is the new normal for collegiate athletics in 2020 and into the foreseeable future.