• Editor’s note: There are more questions than answers regarding when, and how, college football will begin again. Each week until next season, The Transcript will produce a Watch List to monitor developments, setbacks or points of interest surrounding college football’s anticipated return.
After university athletic directors and conference commissioners emerged from the hectic days of the NCAA sports shutdown last month, an arguably tougher challenge awaited — turning an eye to football.
Lawmakers and health experts will ultimately choose how and when college football returns.
But the sport’s power brokers still face moving targets every day when it comes to reintroducing football safely to the environment.
“The first challenge would be to get everybody to agree [on a model for a season],” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said April 9.
Those models have varied.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters during a conference call Tuesday he believes there is a “significant chance” the 2020 season will begin with some conferences and not others.
That’s one of the most notable statements from an AD suggesting such a scenario. It’s rooted in fact: The number of virus infections across the United States — and thus campuses within Power 5 leagues — varies greatly and could remain that way.
Let’s revisit what models for 2020 college football have been discussed the most publicly. These scenarios could all include any number of fans, from zero to capacity.
- A normal season: Play begins on time.
- Late start, late end: A normal season begins late and ends late.
- Late start, regular end: A shortened season.
- A split season: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby mentioned this idea to The Athletic in April. Part of the season takes place in the fall, the rest in the spring. It accounts for a virus “rebound.” Bowlsby did not promote the idea himself, calling it a “fallback position.”
- Spring football: The “2020” season begins in winter or spring 2021.
- No season: No games are played.
• Trending up: It’s difficult finding positive signs that college football will make a healthy and timely return — it’s still May, after all — so until concrete information begins to emerge, this will be a glass-half-full look.
Many universities are announcing plans for in-person classes this fall. That could be viewed as encouraging, if only because it suggests schools are preparing for the structure of a normal academic year — even if it includes social distancing measures and personal protective equipment. It also means they’re prepared to take on a football season.
But these proclamations make no guarantees. Schools stand to benefit financially by retaining students for the upcoming fall semester, and giving students reassurances five months before classes begin can be viewed as tactical on the universities’ part. Just because school presidents are announcing plans for classes, doesn’t mean they won’t change course, especially if virus numbers spike.
But if in-person college courses are on the table, then college football is on the table.
Planning for a normal academic year also helps schools meet criteria in the NCAA’s Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport — namely, the recommendation that schools have a plan in place for resocialization of students. (The principles are meant to serve as a guide, not organizational law.)
Norman is keeping pace with some of the criteria principles too, indicating the city and OU are at least aligned as they prepare for what happens this fall. One NCAA resocialization principal is that state and local authorities must have a plan in place for resocialization.
The City of Norman’s “Healthier at Home” plan has three 14-day phases. In Phase 2, it states the goal for May 29 is to allow sporting venues to operate “with reduced capacity.” The plan includes an August 1 goal of lifting all restrictions. All of it is contingent on regressive infections.
Another note: The Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational will take place June 1 in Bryan, Texas, using some of the testing and precautionary measures that are being discussed by football power brokers.
Other pro sports figure to begin their first steps back in coming months and will be viewed as the models for how sporting events can return safely.
The ability to monitor infection trends within football hotbed states reopening this month — such as Georgia and Tennessee — and to learn how sporting events can take place amid a pandemic should help guide college football’s decision making. They will also indicate what’s possible for the sport over the next 6-8 months.
Infection testing is included in the NCAA’s resocialization principles. The guide states “there must be access to reliable, rapid diagnostic testing on any individual who is suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms.”
• Trending down: What’s working against football right now? Cancelations generally are not encouraging.
Dallas Morning News columnist Chuck Carlton reported Wednesday that Big 12 media days will not take place in Arlington, Texas on July 20-21 and will instead be held virtually.
The Big 12 is the first Power 5 conference to make the move.
Bowlsby has played the role of a wet blanket, although a thoughtful one, over the past month, telling reporters on March 26 that he was worried about the virus rebounding in the middle of the fall and wreaking havoc again. Bowlsby reiterated the same point with SiriusXM Big 12 radio last week and made even bigger headlines.
But he is not wrong to think out loud on that topic. Dr. Ali Khan, former director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR on Wednesday he is “confident” the virus will reemerge during the traditional flu season.
That’s a projection from an expert, not assumption or speculation, meaning for the foreseeable future, the virus is a threat to delay, shorten or completely interrupt a 2020 season.
• Dates to consider: Aug. 29 (the scheduled start date for college football); July 19 (six weeks before Aug. 29. The NCAA Football Oversight Committee, according to Stadium, has recommended a six-week period before returning to games.)
• Notable: If fans are in any way able to support their teams next fall, they’ll have festive personal protective equipment.
Castiglione told reporters last month to watch for some of the equipment “showing up on social media” soon, and sure enough, OU football coach Lincoln Riley tweeted a photo himself in an OU mask on April 11.
Masks emblazoned with pro sports logos are easily findable online.
• Quotable: "If the SEC, for example, opens up a month earlier than the Big Ten, and the Big Ten is able to open up and 12 of the 14 schools, if two schools can't open, I don't see a conference — any conference — penalizing 80% or 75% of the schools because 25% of them can't open. “ — Penn State coach James Franklin, as told to ESPN.
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