When it comes to questions about the 2020 college football season right now, the only answer is that there is no answer. That much was made evident by USC’s Clay Helton, Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington State’s Nick Rolovich during a conference call with Pac-12 media on Monday.
The biggest takeaway from the call is that at this point, there is simply no way to guess what will happen this fall. The good news is that every conceivable possibility is being discussed, so that a plan can quickly be put into place when the time comes.
“I think where we are is the definition of a fluid situation,” Shaw said when asked about the specifics of what it would take for football to be played this fall. “Every state is going to be different. Every campus is going to be different.”
The Pac-12 and Autonomy Five conferences are working together to hopefully come up with a solution where all schools are able to start on the same timeline and proceed with a regular schedule, non-conference and postseason included. That’s an important issue for the Pac-12 especially, as a coalition of western states has already–and will continue moving forward–taken a more conservative approach to loosening restrictions in the ongoing fight against the spread of coronavirus.
But banking on any specific idea happening, or not happening, at this point is fruitless. Helton said the timeline he has is one that has been shared by many universities, as the thought is that late June to early July will be when schools hope to finalize their fall plans.
“Obviously there is a lot of unknown out there,” Helton said. “I really think we’re going to get a lot clearer picture about six to eight weeks from now.”
It’s important for college football to stick to that timeframe, as all three coaches on the call spoke about the importance of getting their players back so that they can prepare, not just for the regular season, but even for a training camp.
“It’s the amount of time when it’s safe enough for 110 men to come back together,” Helton said of the challenge of getting ready for a season under these circumstances. “The amount of time period even prior to training camp, to be able to get these kids in physical, functional football shape so that you don’t have soft tissue injuries and you don’t have joint injuries.”
Getting teams back on the field by early August is imperative if the season is going to kickoff as scheduled. And having some kind of football season is incredibly important to the future of many colleges and universities across the country, so it’s clear that no stone will go unturned in the quest to find the best plan to ensure the safety of all involved–be it players, coaches, officials, staffers, fans and anybody else who plays a part of college football.
Helton said the Pac-12 has discussed the possibility of an 11 game regular season consisting of only conference games. The idea of shortening the season to just the nine conference games could be on the table. Pushing the season back into the winter and spring months could be an option. There are reports that Alabama is speaking to TCU about replacing USC on the schedule if the Trojans are unable to play on September 5. Every question is being asked at this time, even though no answers can be definitively delivered.
Shaw said many coaches believe that there won’t be a 12 game regular season and that the season might not start on time. That would affect the postseason and College Football Playoff, so that could draw calls to look at changing the makeup of the bowl and playoff structure.
Shaw also offered what amounted to some clarification on NCAA President Mark Emmert’s statement from a few days ago. Shaw was asked to comment on Emmert’s statement that said, “So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports.”
But the question in the call only pointing out that sentence lacked a little bit of nuance, as Emmert had said just before that: “That doesn’t mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model.”
And that is what Shaw echoed, as he said campuses could be partially open and still play football, or each school could get to a standard it is comfortable with in its ability to train and house students and student-athletes equitably.
Helton said coaches are optimistic that they’ll be back on the field for a season this year, but that he’s confident that the health and safety of the student-athletes will be the first priority for all of those involved.
“There are some brilliant people that are really diving into this, that are formulating a plan,” Helton said. “I think we’re all optimistic about having the opportunity to play a season.”