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SALT LAKE CITY — Another fallout from the coronavirus circulating around the world is the impact it could have on the upcoming college football season.
One thing has become clear — university administrators are willing to take extreme measures, whatever they may be, to play the season next academic year. Simply stated, athletic departments literally cannot afford to cancel the season.
“If we can’t have a football season, it’s going to get really ugly for a lot of programs whether it’s Power Five, Group of Five or independents, it doesn’t matter,” said Brett McMurphy, college football reporter for the Stadium Network.
Even though training camps for football won’t begin until late July, administrators and coaches are beginning to voice concern about potential health issues involving the athletes. Already having lost most of the allotted 15 spring practices when the NCAA suspended all sports due to the coronavirus, football players may not have enough time to be physically able to play a full 12-game season.
With no end in sight to the sanctions created by the virus, it’s anybody’s guess when the athletes can resume formal practices and strength and conditioning sessions. Administrators at all levels and conferences are now starting to evaluate options.
And at this point, nobody has a clue what will happen. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, delaying the season up to several months, splitting it over two semesters or eliminating nonconference games.
“The fall sports are something that we’re going to have to start spending a lot of time on if this thing continues to go,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said during an interview with David James.
Coaches from around the country are expressing similar sentiments. And then there’s Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s lead college football analyst, who has gone as far to say he would be shocked if the NFL or college football were played next season.
Critics were quick to say Herbstreit was speaking out of turn, pointing out his lack of medical credentials. It’s true that while the former Ohio State quarterback doesn’t even play a doctor on television, he probably has enough inside knowledge to make his statements more than a random opinion.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah State coach Gary Andersen both broached the possibility of reducing the season to only conference games. All conferences play either eight or nine conference games.
If we can’t have a football season, it’s going to get really ugly for a lot of programs whether it’s Power Five, Group of Five or independents, it doesn’t matter.
Mendenhall, the former BYU coach who is a trustee for the American Football Coaches Association, told reporters last week it’s time to think of playing a limited schedule if the current health situation doesn’t change. While return to normalcy has no definitive date, experts still remain adamant about practicing social distancing.
“The first step would be to eliminate nonconference games from the schedule and only play a conference schedule,” Mendenhall said. “Knowing that would still be challenging ... but in relation to the options we have, that certainly might be doable. Once you are under eight games, that probably becomes a non-legitimate season.”
Andersen suggested the Mountain West, which is Utah State’s conference, consider playing the usual eight conference games spread over 10 weeks if teams cannot resume regular activities on June 1. The Pac-12 decision this week to extend the ban on any form of formal practicing until May 31 would make it unlikely to resume regular routines on June 1.
To that end, Harlan said he’s considering up to five alternatives to combat the situation. But even those possibilities are subject to change at any time.
“People are trying to come up with these contingency plans dependent on when everyone can move forward. That’s kind of where we’re at, a lot of unknowns,” said McMurphy, who surveyed more than 100 college athletic directors. “One thing is for certain — nothing is definite right now.”
If college football decides to only conference games, then the nation’s independents may need to take a sabbatical this season. Seven FBS programs, including BYU and Notre Dame, are not affiliated with a conference.
BYU’s 12 games this season are against teams from the Pac-12, Big 10, Mountain West, Southeastern, Mid-American and American Athletic conferences. North Alabama plays in the Big South at the FCS level.
It’s hard to fathom that BYU, given its contract with ESPN to televise most home games, would not have any opponents to play this season. But then again, these are unusual times.
“Everybody, not just the independents, will be having to adjust on the fly to work their schedule,” McMurphy said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network.