A couple of months ago in this space I debated whether we’d have a college football season this fall.
My hope was the coronavirus would be contained to the point where campuses would reopen, students and faculty would return to the classroom and athletes would compete. I wasn’t convinced fans would be allowed in the stadiums but I was optimistic that in the end, it would all work out.
Today, it appears my optimism was shortsighted.
Several of the Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12) are going to keep their football schedules in-house. No nonconference games, which for the have nots — meaning everyone else — you’re on your own. And good luck to you, Charlie.
No big paydays for the San Jose States of the world (the Spartans were scheduled to play at Penn State Sept. 19). No chances for the Central Floridas to land a spot in the College Football Playoff, assuming we even have one.
If you didn’t think the Power 5 controls college football, you finally have proof. The SEC will play each other. The Pac-12 will keep things in-house (Sorry, UNLV, no Cal and no Arizona State at Allegiant Stadium). The ACC will probably allow Notre Dame to keep its commitments to face Wake Forest, Duke, Pittsburgh, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
The ramifications of such actions are obvious. Most schools’ athletic departments are losing money. I heard that Washington State is looking at a $100 million deficit. Granted, a lot of that is tied up in capital improvement projects such as football facilities, stadium upgrades, etc. Still, that’s a staggering number. UCLA has a $40 million shortfall in its athletic department budget. How can it possible make up that kind of deficit, especially with reduced revenue coming in?
At the other end of the spectrum are schools such as UMass, which is independent in football. The Minutemen have already lost one game for sure off their schedule with the Nov. 14 game at Auburn now gone. Are they going to be able to find enough opponents to stay on the schedule to make playing this season worthwhile? And if not, is keeping football a realistic option going forward?
A lot of university presidents are going to be forced to make some every difficult decisions. Look at Stanford. It dropped 11 sports earlier this month. And while none of them were football or basketball, it’s still stunning when news like that comes out. This from a university with an endowment in the billions.
The Ivy League put its entire fall sports schedule on pause. So no Harvard-Yale football in November. Again, we’re talking schools with endowments in the billions. So it shows that even the rich have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The good news I guess is as of today, we’re going to have some sort of college football season. But that could change three weeks from now.
What kind of season will the Mountain West or the Sun Belt have? What about the MAC? There are a lot of sharp handicappers out there who follow these leagues very closely and do very well betting on them. They may have to shift gears and focus their efforts more on the ACC and Pac-12.
The books will likely lose some volume by not having a full board every week, though as long as the Power 5 are all playing, they’ll have enough of a menu to entice people to come in, wager and watch, assuming we can still get into sportsbooks and casinos come September.
Normally, teams would be getting ready to open fall practices and prepare for the start of the season in late August. Right now, that’s not happening. The NCAA is still not sure whether it will have championships in its fall sports. Of course, football at the FBS level has its own orbit and will do what it wants.
The only certainty is like pro sports, college athletics is in a chaotic state. There’s no one right way to start play, maintain competition and have a finish with integrity. Everyone has to make their own individual choice as universities and conferences and ultimately live with the consequences.
Hey, nobody said figuring this out would be easy.