As the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to take a toll on the country, college football and NFL coaches, commissioners, and more are mulling options to salvage their 2020 seasons.
The college football schedule for 2020 has been set since early March. However, it will be the most difficult to change due to the number of conferences — 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and 13 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Each conference has a different number of teams, different scheduling philosophies, and their own commissioners.
There’s also the issue of Independent teams. The FBS has seven independent programs, including Army, BYU, and Notre Dame, while the FCS has only three, two of which will be playing their first seasons at this level (Dixie State and Tarleton State).
Changes to the NFL schedule would be simpler since there are only 32 teams with one commissioner. The NFL will hold their annual draft as scheduled beginning on Thursday, April 23, albeit virtually, and they plan to release their 2020 regular-season schedule by Saturday, May 9.
Let’s take a look at some of the options that have been discussed for both the college and NFL schedules in 2020:
Play the season as scheduled
This would obviously be the best case scenario. Playing the season as scheduled will likely only happen if the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in late-April or May and teams can return to campus for conditioning and practice by around July 1.
A return by that date would be the latest to avoid a change in the 2020 schedule, which was suggested by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
“If you can’t start training your football team by July 1, you’re going to need at least four weeks,” Kelly said. “Strength and conditioning coaches are going to want at least six. Sports medicine is probably looking at 4-to-6 weeks.”
This option would also require that state governments and/or individual universities ease or rescind their restrictions on gatherings, some of which currently extend into June or later. The University of Oklahoma has suspended all in-person activities through July 31.
Play an eight or nine game schedule
Playing an eight or nine game schedule with conference games only has been widely suggested. This would eliminate non-conference games, which would be devastating for Group of Five teams and FCS teams that depend on game guarantees to fund their athletic departments. Those guarantees range from around $500,000 for FCS programs and up to $1.9 million for FBS programs.
Between the two options, a nine game schedule would be more likely because the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 each play nine-game conference schedules. That would mean the ACC, SEC, and Group of Five teams would need to retain one non-conference game. Stadium’s Brett McMurphy suggested that Notre Dame could play nine ACC foes, which would settle their schedules.
That would leave the Independent teams, which could schedule each other, keep some games they already have scheduled, or seek games with teams that need a slot filled.
Play the schedule in late Fall/Spring
Another option is to delay the start of the season and play some of the games in the Fall and then complete the schedule in the Spring. This option was mentioned by an unnamed Power Five athletic director.
“If we have to delay the start of the season, we could split it between two semesters,” a Power Five AD said. “Some bowls may not occur because of this, but we could play a full season, a majority of the bowls and the playoffs.
“Look, we are doing all types of contingency planning, even if these hypothetical scenarios never come close to happening. The biggest issue is (a start date) is a moving target.”
Another option would be to play the full or truncated 2020 season beginning in the Spring of 2021.
“If it’s our only option, we absolutely would have to do it in the spring,” a Group of Five AD said. “It would be incredibly difficult for us to survive financially without football revenue. That’s how critical it is to each university. We have to be creative in our thinking on this.”
Cancel the 2020 college football season
Although the chances of this are unlikely, a complete cancellation of the 2020 college football season could happen if COVID-19 lingers or gets worse. This would be the worst case scenario and would hurt every school and conference.
Play the season as scheduled
The current stance by the NFL is that they will play the 2020 season as scheduled, meaning beginning on Thursday, Sept. 10 and continuing through Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021.
Obviously, this will only occur if COVID-19 subsides by Summer and NFL teams can begin training/practice in July.
Reduce the number of games played
Suggested by CBSSports.com, the NFL could truncate their 16-game schedules by eliminating their four non-conference games. That would take the schedule down to 12 games and it could be tweaked even further if necessary.
Play in empty stadiums
Another option considered by many is to play the games in empty stadiums. But that would cause other issues, such as no ticket revenue and the loss of home-field advantage.
Although the options listed above are not exhaustive, they are the most widely mentioned and discussed. Feel free to discuss the options and suggest others in the comments.