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College Football Is Far From Certain This Fall

Running back Joe Williams #28 of the Utah Utes runs for yardage against defensive back Kai Nacua #12 of the Brigham Young Cougars during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It seems like no one is certain what the upcoming college football season will look like as the United States is in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Don’t be surprised if the season is like an ankle sprain – diagnosed week-to-week.

Sure, there are plans in place like phasing athletes in right now to work in small groups, but there is no physical contact and there are plenty of schools that have recorded positive tests and shutdown these voluntary workouts.

As of today, we are nine weeks from the start of Week 1 of college football season and three weeks from when teams can return to campus to get in their extended fall camp.

What will testing be like once there is actual physical contact that the game of football requires?

Clemson has had two sets of tests which came back positive for COVID-19 and each time it was double-digit players infected, LSU had 30 players, Kansas State had 14 of 130 athletes test positive which led to workouts being shut down, and there are more cases like this across the country.

There is some good news in other parts of the country where there have been few or no players testing positive for COVID-19 like Wyoming which saw zero positive tests in its first wave, only two from Wisconsin, Notre Dame had a single player out of 91 test positive, and Indiana had zero in its first round of testing.

Basically, it is a mixed bag because the areas of the schools that had a high number of positive tests compared to those who had minimal tests are all spread out across the country. That is what makes it difficult to try to predict the virus in either direction.

There are coaches who have no clue how the season can take place in a traditional format. A trio of Power 5 coaches spoke to Yahoo Sports and none are confident about the upcoming season.

“I have no idea how we play,” one Power Five said. “We are cleared to have 10 guys work out at a time with no one within 10 feet of each other and have to clean the whole weight room. And two weeks later, we can line up in a walk (through) 11 on 11?”

Added another Power Five coach: “If it’s contact tracing and lose a guy for 14 days, I don’t know how we’re going to have a football season.”

The third Power Five coach quantified the chances of a 12-game season being executed in the fall without significant cancellations and chaos as “close to zero” percent.

What Can We Expect This Fall?

KSL Sports Mitch Harper and Alex Kirry thought the college football season would be back, close to on time. They discussed the upcoming season on KSL Unrivaled.

Well, things have not gone as planned with positive tests at a variety of schools and it got the two thinking – maybe some adjustments could be in order for a fall season.

“I think we were really naive at the beginning about this to say, ‘sports will be back… college football will be back,’ it is complicated,” Kirry said. “I think that we are realizing now that it is much more complicated than we thought it was going to be. I think we thought we sort of moved past it and move onto football when it came to COVID-19.”

“The reality is now, as college teams are getting back together you are seeing blips of outbreaks on teams and administrators and coaches not knowing how to pull this off. We are less than a month away of 20-hour week practices and going in earnest, or that was the plan.”

The plain and simple fact is that no one knows exactly how a season will go forward this fall. We have heard statements from coaches, athletic directors, and commissioners about plans they have in place but those can be easily blown up when there is a dozen or so football players test positive for COVID-19.

“I think there will be a season but there are so many questions. What happens if a team has a massive outbreak game week, does it end up being a forfeit, do we see games getting canceled in season?” Harper wondered. “There are so many unknowns. You could see a schedule that goes from 12 games suddenly to conference games. There have been no TV announcements for the upcoming season because all of the big TV networks are waiting to see what ends up happening with college football. Usually, by now we know the first three or four weeks of the kick times and TV info.”

The big issue with college football is that it takes so many people to get a game ready from the team itself, coaching staff, trainers, and then for a TV game there could be dozens more in the trucks, broadcast booth, running the camera, and microphones along the sideline. There are upwards of 300 people for a college football game.

“We are kind of tip-toeing into this and the unfortunate thing about it is that the real answer is to give more time for us to figure things out for a vaccine,” Kirry said. “You start to look at options at what college football has… we laughed at pushing off the season as far into the spring. That was a popular thing to talk about maybe a month and a half ago.”

“The rules are out the window. You are talking about pushing this season out to next winter, essentially, the season would kick off in early February and culminate the College Football Playoff around Memorial Day. One: it doesn’t sound feasible, and two: it is something that would affect next season. So, 2021 were to have something like this would not get kicked off on time as you would not have a normal spring or summer situation.”

All options have to be on the table and it will not be easy.

Some Decisions Have Been Made

The decision for teams or a league to cancel the season will start at the lower levels of college football – the ones that have less on the line when it comes to money compared to FBS programs.

Some have already started to do that.

Division II Moorehouse College has canceled its season outright and is believed to be the first scholarship program to not play this fall, plus the entire Central Valley Conference of the California Community College Athletic Association has suspended all fall sports, so expect others to follow suit.

Southern University has canceled its game vs. Florida A&M and the SWAC has said it will cancel its football season this fall if games don’t start by Oct. 17.

These are all relatively small when it comes to even FCS teams but one league to keep an eye on at that level is the Ivy League. They were the first Division I conference last year to shut down all spring and winter sports and were met with an eyebrow raised.

Now, there is a report that the league known for its academics more than sports could be moving football to the spring or have an abbreviated fall slate of only seven conference games.

The Ivy League does not participate in the FCS playoffs so they are not completely beholden to the NCAA in that regard and would slightly interrupt whatever season that is put in place this fall.

The conference released a statement on the report but did not confirm or comment on any projected altered football plans.

“The Ivy League Council of Presidents has been meeting frequently via videoconference this spring,” the statement read. “Should the Council of Presidents make a determination regarding the status of intercollegiate athletic activity at Ivy League schools, that decision will be communicated first to Ivy League directors of athletics, coaches and student-athletes, followed by the wider Ivy League campus community, media and public.”

With the flexibility that the Ivy League has in football, it would not be a surprise if they do what is best for their student-athletes and ultimately alter the schedule. The league does not make much money in football and their media rights deal with ESPN but most of their games are on ESPN+ and produced by the schools themselves.

It is hard to be optimistic with cases spiking across the country with record highs in multiple states to think that an even close to traditional college football season can take place. There is still a little bit of time but we are eight weeks from the handful of Week 0 games and nine weeks from the full-fledge start to the college football season.

Maybe there will be a positive swing and cases go done and things are figured out during full-team workouts get going, but for now, it is very much a wait-and-see approach.

Tune into KSL Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast

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