The Big Ten’s unprecedented decision to cancel the fall football season for the first time in 125 years has left a lot of questions unanswered.
Here are five of them:
Is a spring football season even feasible?
This is the million dollar question. I can’t say I’m optimistic, personally. Former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has said, “No chance.” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm believes “it is possible” pending a lot of discussions that need to happen. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst has floated the possibility of an abbreviated spring season, consisting of six to eight games.
The hurdles to a spring season are myriad. First, you would be substituting what is ordinarily a practice period with a season of actual competition, subjecting players to the physical toll of competing twice in the same calendar year. There is the matter of scheduling the games, and winter weather will certainly be a factor, especially for Big Ten programs.
The 2021 NFL Draft date is also up in the air. In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, the draft must be held between Feb. 14 and June 2. How many players would opt out of a spring season to avoid conflicts with the draft process? If the ACC, Big 12, and SEC all complete their fall seasons, will the NFL even feel obligated to accommodate players from conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 in the spring? Chryst also made the point that no one wants “to waste a year” of eligibility on a truncated season, either.
But above all, a spring season will require leadership, planning, and communication. This cannot be another instance where a schedule is announced and then a week later the season is cancelled. The summer months were wasted. Big Ten leadership can’t afford to make the same mistake twice, especially with the NCAA providing no guidance. Conference leadership can start by establishing standard health and safety protocols and testing procedures across all member institutions, because no one knows whether the spread of COVID-19 will be mitigated by then. But the Big Ten can at least have contingencies in place.
How will players’ eligibility be affected?
This is the thousand dollar question. Do all players within programs that had their season cancelled retain their current years of eligibility? Will an abbreviated spring season be worth a full year of eligibility? Could a senior choose to opt out of an abbreviated spring season and retain their final year of eligibility for the fall? So many questions unanswered.
Several coaches this week have said that the NCAA is expected to address the issue of eligibility this month, but with their track record, who the hell knows.
What impact will this have on recruiting?
I’ve been seeing a fair amount of speculation that the decision to cancel the fall 2020 season will doom Big 10 and Pac-12 programs in recruiting, but I’m not so sure. Why would the fate of the 2020 college football season affect the decision-making of recruits who wouldn’t even see the field until 2021 at the earliest? And the decision to cancel was made in the best interest of the “mental and physical health and welfare” of the student-athletes, with the Big Ten specifically stating “that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.” Good luck using that as a negative talking point when you are sitting in a recruit’s living room making your recruiting pitch to their parents.
In the event that the SEC or ACC or Big 12 don’t cancel the fall season, might those programs make the case that “college football means more” in their conference? Sure, but “It Just Means More” has been the SEC slogan for years. That is nothing new.
My biggest concern in regards to recruiting is the aforementioned eligibility issue. FBS football programs are currently capped at 85 scholarship student-athletes. Would a spring season count as a full year of eligibility? If there is no spring season and everyone retains their eligibility, how do programs make room on their rosters for incoming freshmen? The NCAA will more than likely need to increase the cap so that scholarship players aren’t cut left and right.
What will be the financial impact of no fall sports?
There is no point in sugarcoating it: Athletics departments around the country are in serious trouble. The University of Minnesota athletics department, for example, estimated back in May that they could lose $75 million without fall sports, representing more than half of the department’s fiscal 2019 budget of $123 million. The revenue from the Big Ten’s lucrative television contracts is a big part of that. Minnesota, along with several other schools, have tried to mitigate the impending financial shortfall by launching a fundraising campaign, but that will only go so far.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez gave a sobering interview to Sports Illustrated after the announcement, conceding that they are “going to have to have some layoffs” in the athletics department and that there will be “very difficult decisions to make.” He said he hopes to avoid having to cut non-revenue sports, but I’m sure he and other athletic directors are well aware that they may have to cross that bridge when they come to it.
Will Nebraska fans realize there is more to life than football?
What’s in the water in Lincoln? I anticipated reactions to the Big Ten’s cancellation would run the gamut from sad and confused to angry and upset. But I don’t know that I expected Nebraska fans to stake their claim as the most delusional fan base in the Big Ten. Perhaps I should have read the tea leaves after athletic director Bill Moos floated the idea of filling Memorial Stadium to full capacity on game days as recently as two weeks ago.
Since this saga kicked off with the initial report that the Big Ten presidents were prepared to cancel the fall season, Husker fans have called for Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to resign and screamed for Nebraska to secede from the Big Ten. Overreactions have not been exclusive to their fan base, but theirs is the only one with a head coach shamelessly fanning the flames.
Head coach Scott Frost delivered a hollow threat on Monday that Nebraska would “look for other options” if the Big Ten cancelled, doing something he has yet to accomplish in two seasons in Lincoln: Give Husker fans something to cheer about. At least one fan showered Frost with praise for “laying down the gauntlet,” crediting him with having “saved the season” (two hours before the season was cancelled). Another drew a comparison between Frost and — I kid you not — Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Setting aside for a moment that virtually everyone outside of Lincoln has said that going rogue is a logistical and legal pipe dream — I mean, even Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the Buckeyes will respect the Big Ten’s decision — let’s engage for a second with this Nebraka beat writer, who argues that the Huskers are in some way unimpressed with their conference.
What do they have to complain about? That the competition has been too difficult?
This is a program that was touted as “the Big Ten’s new bully” by Sports Illustrated, yet their lone appearance in the Big Ten Championship thus far has been a humiliating 70-31 loss to a 7-5 Wisconsin team that was only in Indianapolis because Ohio State and Penn State had both been banned from postseason competition. If anything, they should consider themselves fortunate the Big Ten got greedy and added Maryland and Rutgers, otherwise we’d be pointing and laughing at Nebraska as the conference’s ugly stepchild.
If Nebraska wants to retreat, by all means let them surrender.