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Sports Authority

Moller: The uncertainties of the 2020 college football season

| Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In a Sports Authority I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I predicted that college football would not happen in 2020. At the time it seemed reasonable, considering the Big Ten and Pac-12 had recently cancelled their season. COVID-19 was spreading rampantly around Notre Dame and other college campuses, and even professional sports were struggling to prevent outbreaks among teams.

Despite all of this, it appears that the ACC, Big 12, and SEC are all set to start their season in just a few short days. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I will be sitting in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday cheering for the Irish. If you would have told me that three weeks ago, I would have said there was no chance of that happening. While it does look like there will be at least a start to the season, I expect there to be some road bumps between the season’s start and the crowning of a national champion in January.

Unlike the professional sports that have already resumed play, college football does not have a single commissioner. Instead, each conference within college football has their own commissioner. This could make the season very interesting because different conferences might have different regulations if an outbreak were to occur. Let’s say there is a big outbreak in the SEC. Will the Big 12 and ACC continue to play like nothing is going? My guess would be that they would because there are no cross conference games, but this could cause problems down the road if certain conferences require additional weeks to complete all of their games.

Another huge issue with college football and college athletics in general is that the players are likely to be exposed to COVID-19 on a fairly regular basis, and it is impossible for them to avoid this exposure completely. Some schools in the South right now have had a large proportion of their student body test positive, and it is very likely that some of these students interact both in class and socially with the football players on a day-to-day basis. 

The NBA and NHL can easily create a bubble around their athletes; this is not possible with college football because the athletes need to go to class as well. In theory, college football athletes might even be more at risk to contract the virus than MLB players (who aren’t in a bubble) because of the amount of “outsiders” that the student players have to interact with everyday.

It’s inevitable that players are going to test positive, and that is going to disrupt the sesaon to some extent. What is a team supposed to do if their quarterback tests positive? Or what happens when 40 of your players are in quarantine? That happened to Tennessee this past week, and they had to cancel a scrimmage because of it. 

These disruptions that could occur throughout the season are going to make the college football landscape very bizarre this year. More than ever, teams are going to need to rely on their depth if players are out due to the virus. It will also be interesting to see if more players get injured than a typical season because of a lack of spring practice and a shorter summer practice for some teams. 

Another question I have is what happens when it is time for bowl seasons? Are we just going to pair up the best teams in the country regardless of geographical location and hope for the best? I would hope that there would be some type of bubble for bowl games to ensure that there aren’t major outbreaks right before the game. 

The college football season will be anything but normal, but at the end of the day, I am going to embrace the 2020 season for all of its craziness regardless. While there definitely won’t be the same type of energy on game day as usual, the 2020 season figures to be just as memorable as any other year.

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