The football season is underway to the delight of millions of Americans. But before getting too comfortable on your couch, be cognizant of the fact that there’s an unprecedented degree of uncertainty for both the pros and the colleges. And it very well could be one of those things that turns football into an unpredictable adventure week to week.
The NFL’s first week is proceeding without a major hitch. But the college schedule is disjointed. Some conferences, including the ACC and the Big 12, have launched their seasons. Overall, college football completed its second week of play Saturday, but there were some last minute cancellations and as it was, the schedule was muted. The SEC will begin competition on September 26th.
Yet many fans didn’t even expect this much to happen. In late spring and early summer, prognosticators projected a dark season entirely, coast-to-coast. Kirk Hebrstreit, ESPN’s lead college football analyst, was one who went on record, confidently so, predicting a completely lost season.
On the college side, each conference made its own decision whether or not to activate their programs this fall. For instance, two of the Power Five conferences, The Big Ten and the Pac-12, have decided to postpone their seasons.
The Big Ten though is facing internal and external pressure to play, including from none other than President Donald Trump who’s urging decision makers to open up their football fields. And indeed, there are strong rumors this weekend that the Big Ten might reverse its earlier decision and begin in October. An announcement might be forthcoming Monday or Tuesday.
Through all this, some of the Pac-12 players expressed concern about the current safety and inclusion protocols, and some players from the Big Ten have myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) which can impair recovery from Covid-19.
To explore the fluid issues that are severely affecting this most unusual season, I reached out to the well respected college football analyst Paul Finebaum to get his views. Finebaum hosts his own four hour daily radio show The Paul Finebaum Show which is simulcast on the SEC Network. He is also a frequent guest on College Football Live, College GameDay and other ESPN platforms
When I interviewed him last week about all of the angles of college football in 2020, he had this to say:
Following the recent decisions by the PAC-12 and Big Ten to cancel their football programs this fall; a significant number of college athletes expressed their disappointment, and they requested a voice in such decisions. Over time, do you see student athletes getting more say in matters of such magnitude?
I believe we have reached one of the most important inflection points in the history of intercollegiate athletics with a major paradigm shift toward college athletes gaining a louder and more resonant voice.
In a recent article by Sports Illustrated, NCAA Chief Medical Officer explains that unless current U.S. Testing protocols change, there should be no sports. The article also highlights how each conference has its own personal medical advisory staff that determines whether or not teams should play. Is a universal, all-inclusive advisory board, doable? Would it be beneficial?
I have no issue with a universal group serving in an advisory position. But every league has different issues so believe it’s more constructive for each conference to develop its own standards.
This leads to an overarching administrative question. Will college football ever have a commissioner of its own enabling the game to function unitedly, under one set of rules and decisions?
I don’t believe college football is any closer to a commissioner. We have seen this year how far apart the leagues are from a practical and ideological approach to management. Right now, I don’t see any of the five leagues ceding power to anyone else.
Where do you stand in the decision to play or not?
Presently, I am in favor of playing. By no means, is it a clear choice. However, by waiting and delaying the start, much important information has been gained and one can only hope it can be safely. I am still unclear why a number of leagues – especially the Big 10 and Pac-12 needed to make a decision on August 11.
You’ve built lots of your expertise covering college football. Will a lackluster or disjointed season change the subject-matter you cover?
I think this will be an utterly bizarre season. It will be like getting on the Rockin Roller Coaster at Disney World and riding it for three months without a break.
Should schedules be staggered, how do you see the college football playoff playing out?
Everyone has built in some gaps, so it will be a major challenge of the CFP committee to make an equitable judgement. But it is usually not as difficult as we in the media make it out to be to find the four best teams.
Taking a long-term view, do you see college basketball being played this winter and if so, what restrictions do you envision?
I do see college basketball being played. The season will be shorter and clearly there may be more challenges because of the winter months. I think it is essential for the NCAA tournament to be played – which may mean putting the teams in a bubble.
From your standpoint, is the NFL taking enough precautions to ensure a safe season? Do you see its season being disrupted?
I think the NFL has performed extraordinary well so far. Of course, we haven’t had a game and no club has boarded a plane, (answered on eve of season). However, the management of their protocols has been flawless.