College Football Down But Not Out: How Players and Coaches Are Fighting Back

As the coronavirus pandemic raged on through the summer – the promised dip in cases with the warm weather never really arriving – a pit began to form in the stomachs of many college football fans around the country. While the NFL has yet to make significant changes, outside cancelling preseason games, college football was always at greater risk. There’s limited ways to institute a bubble system that has allowed for successful restarts in the NHL and NBA. The MLB has allowed limited travel, and even that has not come without its drawbacks, with several teams seeing a multitude of games cancelled as the virus raged through their clubhouse.

Could college football ever survive? The early responses to that question began rolling in over the past couple of weeks, as FCS moved their season to the spring, while UConn became the first FBS team to cancel their fall season. The MAC became the first FBS conference to make the announcement – seemingly making it only a matter of time until the season fell by the wayside. On Monday, major dominoes finally fell, as the Big 10 voted to cancel their season by an overwhelming 12-2 majority. The Mountain West Conference soon followed. The Pac-12 is expected to vote their way into the same course of action today, which would leave the FBS with just 6 of 10 conferences still standings. However, don’t spell doom on the college football season just yet. 

Players Fighting Back

#WeWantToPlay. The hashtag has flooded twitter, after it was posted by itself in a Tweet by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The tweet was followed up by a longer explanation from the potential #1 draft pick, stating that the players and community at large would be at least as safe with a football season as without. Coming from Lawrence, who has little to gain in the way of draft stock this season, the statement was extremely important. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields echoed the sentiment, as did several other prominent players, with Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill being another notable name to join the cause. Several other Buckeyes’ players reacted to the Big 10’s decision, firing out tweets wondering whether they could join the SEC for a year. On Monday, Ian Book and the rest of the Notre Dame captains released a statement, affirming their support for a 2020 season: “As leaders of this team, we can confidently say that the metal and physical health of this team is in a better place with the football season taking place this fall”, the statement read. 

Joe Burrow, although a recent alum of the college football world, sent out an eye-opening tweet, saying that if this had happened last season, he would likely be looking for a job right now. The tweet referenced Burrow’s meteoric rise from a player barely projected to be drafted to a lock for the #1 overall pick, a stunning climb that hinged on his historical Heisman-winning 2019 season. Which players out there could make a similar move in 2020? If the decision to cancel the season is upheld, we may never get to find out. 

Coaches and Celebrities Get Involved

The desperate fight to play has not only involved players, as everal coaches got involved in the movement. Jim Harbaugh cited Michigan’s 0 positive results in their last 353 tests as evidence that the virus could be controlled, a point emphasized in a tweet from Michigan defensive lineman Adam Hutchinson.

Scott Frost said the Nebraska program was prepared to explore opportunities outside the Big 10 for a season, while Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Penn State’s James Franklin both expressed sentiments about hoping to reverse the decision. Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss also tweeted out the #WeWantToPlay hashtag in support of the movement to have the 2020 season. Nick Saban released a statement saying that the notion that college players could only get the virus from playing football was incredibly false, citing Alabama’s 2% positive test ratio since the 4th of July. 

Basketball legend Shaq and President Trump were also among the big names that advocated for the players via social media yesterday, however not everyone wants the season to be played. Stephen A. Smith said the season should be cancelled today, and evidently, there’s concern among some players as well, with 31 opt-outs to this point. Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Rondale Moore (Purdue), and Micah Parsons (Penn State) highlighted the opt-out movement, as all three highly-ranked prospects elected to not play in 2020. However, a growing sentiment in the college football world was that the option to play should be as readily available as the option to opt-out. The virus has proved containable, and with effective measures in place and conference-only play, a season with an abbreviated slate of games seems attainable. 

Realignment and other ideas

The Pac-12 will likely announce their cancellation on Tuesday, and the Big 10 should make their decision official as well, officially bringing the number of conferences down to 6. The most updated reports have said that they may only delay their season, waiting before announcing an official cancellation. But if the season isn’t officially cancelled, and those 6 conferences want to play, we could see some weird things happening that would shake up the football world. The SEC has already reportedly begun courting several teams to join their conference for a season, including Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big 12. Could an SEC/Big 12 superconference be a possible solution. Such a deal would leave the ACC on the outside looking in, maybe hoping to secure some Big 10  and AAC teams to join their conference on a temporary basis. Nebraska and Iowa voted against the cancellation officially, and with several coaches speaking out against the decision, it would be foolish to declare the season dead just yet. Meanwhile, there could also be traction for an SEC/ACC alignment, while the Big 12 welcomes in teams from the Big 10 and Pac-12 that still want to play. Could some teams from the cancelled Mountain West (Boise State being the most prominent) link up with some hodgepodge conference in 2020? Conference USA intends to play as of this moment, despite Old Dominion’s announcement that they would not play in the fall. C-USA could also be a factor in regrouping teams into a realigned conference set-up. The logistics of any of these set-ups would be a nightmare to figure out, with playoff formats and schedules having to be reconfigured, but the possibility remains in play. 

Of course, the most likely situation may still be a spring season, which would at least recoup some of the brutal financial losses that programs across the country will suffer from the cancellation of the fall schedule. If a spring season can’t be played, it would be expected that dozens of athletic teams will be forced to shut down, due to the financial strain. We’ve already seen a bevy of programs cut due to this, and the reality of missing a year of football, easily the greatest money maker for nearly every school, would cause the program cancellations to increase greatly. The outlook is bleak right now, but don’t close the coffin just yet. College football is down but not out – #WeWantToPlay.

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