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NCAA Football: The Big Ten, Pac-12 and the 5 Ws of spring football speculation

Last week the Big Ten postponed football until Spring of 2021, what will that look like?

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oregon vs Wisconsin Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

March 11th is the day sports died in the United States. That was basically the last night of American sports as we knew it for 2020. The Gophers beat Northwestern in round 1 of the Big Ten Tournament and then one by one conferences and professional sports leagues began to shut down to the pending pandemic.

Throughout the spring and early summer there was hope that we’d still get football in the fall, to return to some level of sports normalcy for those of us who like sports.

But last week the Big Ten, along with the Pac-12, decided to officially postpone the 2020 fall football season and they anticipate they’ll be able to play a modified season in the spring of 2021.

Assuming that our daily lives are closer to normal and playing football is more realistic in the spring, what on earth would a season of college football look like in the spring?

Let us speculate.

WHO will play?

As of right now it will only be the Big Ten and the Pac-12 from the power 5 conferences. While the group of 5 spring participants will be the MAC and Mountain West conferences. Currently the SEC, ACC, Big12, Conference USA, Sun Belt and American conferences are still planning on a fall season.

So there is still the opportunity to allow for a non-conference game or two. This is unlikely as the spring season will likely be a short one. Considering these leagues will be playing two seasons in the same calendar year, there will be smaller schedule. Which also means that non-conference games are less likely.

For programs in the MAC and Mountain West they would certainly appreciate a non-conference game or two to be scheduled with a Pac-12 or Big Ten opponent. Those programs really need that revenue from those games. While a non-conference game or two seems unlikely, I wouldn’t completely rule it out at this point.

WHAT is it going to look like?

Forget timing and schedules for a minute, what is this really going to look like? How much different is it going to “feel” watching Big Ten football sometime after the traditional season.

Fall Saturday’s generally elicit feelings of “this is football weather.” January or February in Minnesota as it is grey, snowy and COLD; are we really going to be feeling football? Obviously we’ll be excited to watch the Gophers take the field, but I’m very interested in how this will feel different.

And what will they really be playing for? A bonus “what” question.

Essentially they are playing for conference only accolades. And ultimately they are playing so that the athletic departments can make generate revenue. But, what if they are playing for a very unique and fun opportunity?

Considering the Pac-12 is also postponing their season, what if there was a spring Rose Bowl? How much fun would that be? A spring Rose Bowl matchup of the top team from each conference would be sort of a spring football championship and considering the dearth of sports action in April/May, would be a massive TV event.

WHEN will they play?

There many schedule logistics work through for a non-fall football season. We keep calling it a “spring season” but really this is going to likely be a winter season that runs into the spring.

  • They have to play games early enough so this doesn’t interfere with the NFL Draft. Even if the NFL would agree to move it back a couple weeks, they still have a tight window here.
  • They have to play the games early enough so it doesn’t butt up too closely to the 2021 fall season.
  • They have to push the games deeper into the calendar to get further and further from the worst of the current pandemic.
  • How many games are they going to play? How many games are they going to have to play over the course of the full calendar year?

Purdue’s Jeff Brohm made his detailed plan public, so we at least have a baseline to begin the conversation.

Brohm’s plan has games beginning at the very end of February and running for 8 weeks and then some sort of a modified playoff in May. Ryan Day suggested a plan that has games begin in January.

The timing is important and the number of games played is also very important. If we can assume for a moment that the fall of 2021 will be relatively normal, then the number of total games played in a calendar year as well as adequate time to rest/recover inbetween the two seasons are very important.

Brohm suggests an 8-game schedule. You play your 6 divisional games, 1 crossover/rivalry game and then basically a seeded final regular season game (West #1 vs. East #1 and then down the line). I might suggest that they go with 1 non-conference game, 6 divisional games and then the seeded regular season finale.

WHERE will they play?

Do they need to get creative with locations? Most likely games will be played at home stadiums. But as much as Minnesota has the reputation for bad weather and brutal winters, most of the Big Ten is not going to be inhospitable to outdoor football in January or Februrary.

Some have suggested that the Big Ten teams get into pods at a central location and play games at would be neutral sites. Perhaps someplace like Indianapolis and Minneapolis who have domed stadiums. Or maybe as we get further into February or March you could play games in Chicago, Cleveland or one of the Pennsylvania cities.

I’ll be surprised is games are not played on campuses, but maybe Minnesota tries to play their first couple games at TCF Bank Stadium? Seriously, a home game at the end of January could be brutal.

And will there be fans in the stands? This is where the southern conferences will make for a good testing ground. Do they allow 20% capacity? We will benefit from the great college football experiment of the 2020 fall.


Why are they planning for a spring season, rather than cancelling the season altogether? Mostly this is about about money. It is to give the kids their opportunity to continue to develop and to make their case for a future to be played on Sundays. But more than anything this is a monetary necessity. Football revenue essentially pays for the entire athletic department.

In order to continue to employ athletic department support staff and to pay for the scholarships in all of the non-revenue sports, football is a necessity. Basketball, and for some schools hockey, contribute to the pie. But football is the primary driver.

Barry Alvarez has already indicated that there will have to be cuts in the athletic department. Stanford has already cut some sports.

Athletic departments rely on football. Therefore, they will do whatever they can to ensure that there is some form of a 2020 season, even if it occurs in early 2021.

As you can see there are a number of details that have to be worked out. It should be very interesting to not only see how this unique season is played, but it should be fun to have football back once again.

Row the Boat