As of this writing, we are still 145 days away from the scheduled beginning of the 2020 football season. But there is more to a football season than players (and fans) showing up on game day - there is an extensive preseason, including workouts, practices, new enrollees joining the team, medical checkups, and more.
Practices often start in early August, which would be more like 112 days from now.
Summer enrollees usually join their teams for summer academic sessions, which is closer to late June/early July, getting down to 80 days from now.
Meanwhile, many states around the country have lockdown orders in effect. Pennsylvania is currently locked down until April 30th (though I would honestly be shocked if that weren’t extended to the end of May). In PA, schools will not be going back in session this academic year. Other states have even more stringent orders - Virginia is already closed until June 10th. That would leave approximately 3 weeks between the end of quarantine, and football operations starting up.
Will we see a full season in 2020? Who knows. It is certainly possible, but if worse comes to worst and football is affected by these late winter/spring/early summer closures, how would you handle the 2020 season?
To me, there are a few options, depending on how long the closures go on:
Shorten the Season
This one is perhaps the easiest, if not the most palatable. Just axe a few games. Perhaps the non-conference slate is cut, meaning the season wouldn’t start until late September/early October. It keeps the conference games intact for postseason seeding purposes, and the conference championships and bowl games can still be scheduled as normal.
While this keeps things mostly straight on the calendar, financially it would be problematic. Simply put, football keeps almost every athletic department around the country financially solvent. Losing 2-3 home games would make many schools operate in the red - I’d hate for some smaller teams to be shuttered because of a shorter football season.
This is also bad news for the MACrifices of the world. Many small schools rely on big pay days from Power 5 teams to keep their team going. We could see a number of smaller schools close up shop without that money.
Push the Season Back
Maybe the closures go on longer than anticipated, and to shorten the season, we’d be looking at 6 games or fewer. If that were the case, we could look at a spring season. This would result in a full season, with the bowls and playoffs coming in April/May.
I have a few concerns with this. For one, if the “2020” season doesn’t end until May, when do you do “spring” ball for 2021? You’d be looking at a much shorter off season between 2020 and 2021, with less time for workouts, player evaluations, transfers, etc.
Then there’s the fact that the spring would end up supersaturated with sports. College football, college basketball, NBA, NHL, PGA, MLB would all end up overlapping, competing for TV time. That seems less than ideal as well.
Start on Time, but Play Without Fans
Maybe the best of both worlds is to start on time, but don’t play with fans. Pump in crowd noise for the games, but keep the 100,000+ fans at home. This would keep the season on track, and minimize the spread of the virus. This also settles the disparity that some teams play longer conference seasons than others.
But then, athletic departments rely on ticket and concession sales to stay afloat. In this case they wouldn’t get any of that money, and would in fact have to refund season ticket holders for however many games get canceled. Could it be done, when weighing in some of the other calendar implications? Sure. But I’m not sold that any athletic department would be too keen on it.
Cancel the Season Entirely
The most extreme option, we just forego the 2020 season. Whether it’s financial impacts, or how pushing the season back then affects other sports from a calendar perspective, the 2020 season is in some serious peril. If full football operations can’t start over the summer more or less on time, the cleanest - if perhaps most painful - answer may be to just cancel the 2020 season.
What happens to players who were set to be seniors? Do they get another year of eligibility? What about players who are good enough to go to the NFL early? Do they still get that chance (most likely yes)?
Overall, there are a few ways to handle the 2020 season, assuming it is in fact impacted by Covid-19. If you were in charge, how would you handle it?