Tuesday was a historic day in college sports as the Pac-12 and Big Ten both canceled the fall 2020 football season and the Pac-12 postponed all fall sports, hoping to potentially play them in the spring. The idea here was to provide a Winners and Losers list coming out of the announcement, but truthfully it would have wound up just being a list of varying degrees of Loser, as virtually everybody loses something significant with this decision.
Still, there are a couple clear winners.
The ACC/Big 12/SEC:
These three conferences won Tuesday in a big way, as the Big-12 made an afternoon statement saying they would continue moving forward with plans to play their 2020 fall football schedule. If the Big-12 stays the course, it’s more than likely that those three conferences will continue to say they will play.
However, there is no guarantee these conferences will be long-term winners, as starting a fall season and then having to stop it might be worse than not playing it at all, especially if players from the Big Ten and Pac-12 are able to transfer without penalty and wind up doing so. That’s a big knot to untangle.
Without an absolute guarantee that the schools in the conference could keep its players safe from an unknown danger, the Pac-12 went fully on the side of player safety. In the end, the unknowns around the heart issues that have been seen in Covid patients threw enough of a late curveball at the medical advisory board that the recommendation was to not pursue a season. With so much uncertainty, the conference sided with what it felt is in the best interest of student-athlete well-being.
And that’s it for the winners. There is a group of USC fans who would likely put USC head coach Clay Helton here, as he dodges what was likely going to be a very difficult schedule with the move to a conference-only slate, and then avoids taking any losses whatsoever with the cancellation. But–aside from the fact that he’s a football coach and he wants to coach football–I think Helton would have rather taken his chances with this roster against this schedule than having to deal with the incoming headache of roster management, and potentially not getting to utilize some phenomenal draft-eligible juniors in Alijah Vera-Tucker, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Talanoa Hufanga, as well as losing a season of quarterback Kedon Slovis.
The Pac-12 is going to take a ton of heat from different angles about making this decision, but that shouldn’t distract from the absolutely abysmal showing from the NCAA in this entire ordeal.
There is no point to having an entity oversee the entire college sports landscape when their answer to college football’s biggest issue in decades is basically, “Figure it out on your own.”
The sport needed leadership over the past five months to step forward with a real plan or at least a way to create a plan and “leaders” at the NCAA actively avoided doing so.
At this point, I wouldn’t blame any athletic director who responded to any future communication from the NCAA by saying, “No thanks. We’ve got this.”
The one thing that had to happen following the conclusion of all the “will-they-won’t-they” speculation as to the fall season was that no matter what the conference announced, it couldn’t just take care of that day. It had to clearly address the next multiple steps forward, so that nobody was again left in the dark and confused as everybody in the conference was back in March.
Guess what happened.
Reports came out the day before the Big Ten announced it had canceled its fall season that said leaders there had only begun to explore the hypothetical spring season, so clearly the Pac-12 isn’t alone here.
What Tuesday felt like was that the Pac-12 spent the past five months saying, “Okay, if we’re clear to play in August, we’ll play in August. If we’re clear to play in September, we’ll play in September.”
That’s a five-second conversation on the day spring ball was shut down, not the result of months of meetings.
Obviously I can pretty much guarantee that more went into the conversations than that, but based on what came out yesterday, I can’t fully guarantee it.
Once even the hint of a thought of having to cancel the fall season was broached, a complete plan for the spring had to be developed, with certain answers from the Pac-12 through thr NCAA on player eligibility, scholarship limits, practice and game schedules. If you eventually have to scrap or alter that, fine, but making coaches, players and staffers endure even more uncertainty after an entire summer of it is embarrassing. The idea is sports can return in the conference on January 1, but there’s nothing firm as to whether that will happen or not. It puts coaches and student-athletes in a really tough spot.
And again, the Pac-12 isn’t alone, as Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said today: “There has been nothing that’s come from the Big Ten regarding moving forward.”
The USC offensive lineman looked set to slide out to left tackle, put a season’s worth of video together there and potentially head off to the NFL as a first-round pick.
Now? Who knows?
If there is a spring season, many of the players who are likely high-round draft picks (and probably some others who aren’t) are likely to opt out in order to prepare for the NFL Combine. Would Vera-Tucker make that decision if he has no college film at left tackle? Certainly the difference in an NFL team knowing he can play there and believing he can play there would alter his draft stock a bit. The flip side being, would he perform as well at the combine if he plays a “full” spring season?
Potential early entrants like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Talanoa Hufanga are hurt a bit by not having another year of film, but neither would have been looking to transition to another position.
Players and fans:
It goes without saying, but what a gut punch to anybody who participated in or loves Pac-12 football. Obviously there are different views about how to proceed with the season, as conferences have postponed and others are moving forward. But it’s objectively disappointing to not have a fall football season.
Bru McCoy and Solomon Tuliaupupu:
I get that every player on the roster was looking forward to playing football this fall, but I’d put these two guys at the top of the list. McCoy had a lost season last year as he bounced back and forth between Texas and USC, dealt with a mysterious illness and was away from the football field until the very end of the season. He would have had a chance to make a major impact at wide receiver as a redshirt sophomore.
Tuliaupupu has missed his first two college seasons with a foot injury but looked to be on pace to play this fall. He had the talent and potential to quickly become one of the best linebackers in the conference, but now won’t be able to prove that this fall.
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