The South Carolina football season is set to start on September 5th with a home matchup against Coastal Carolina, but upcoming decisions may alter those plans.
With COVID-19 cases still prevalent in the United States, university administrators will be tasked with making a decision on the start of the upcoming 2020 football season. The Ivy League is expected to make its decision on Wednesday, and the conference seems to be leaning towards a verdict of either shortening the season or pushing it into the spring of 2021.
As student athletes across the country returned to campus late last month, universities like LSU and Clemson saw spikes in positive tests among team members, coaches, and staff. Others, like South Carolina and Notre Dame, have stated that their athletes have experienced little to no exposure on campus.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the never-before-seen situation, Power Five conferences may rely on the Ivy League’s decision as precedent. Back in early March, we saw the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big XII, and PAC-12 follow suit of the Ivy League’s choice to cancel postseason basketball tournaments. Could this have the same domino effect?
WHY IT WILL
No one has dealt with a situation like this before, at least not in the landscape of major college sports. The health and safety of players, coaches, and fans is the number one concern of university officials. As the cases continue to rise, the view of a September start gets more and more pessimistic. With safety measures come financial repercussions. Repeated testing is not cheap and ensuring that campuses can maintain healthy environments for student athletes could sway universities to make the decision to postpone.
There’s also the view from the outside. Making the call to continue on with the season as planned, while ignoring the decisions of other Division I schools, could turn into a PR nightmare. The idea that profit is valued over player and fan safety may not sit well with the public, particularly if these pandemic numbers don’t begin to fall as summer ends.
WHY IT WON’T
The Ivy League decision almost certainly will affect some conferences at the FCS level, but these leagues are not nearly the cash cow that is Power Five college football. These schools do not rely on their respective athletic departments as a way to produce revenue. Schools like South Carolina do.
Television deals, as well as fan attendance, are vital to the success of football and basketball programs, as they are responsible for funding all other sports in an athletic department. Shortening the season or pushing it into the spring could have huge financial ramifications.
TV scheduling could end up clashing with other major sports, for example, CBS has already announced that should the fall season continue, The Masters will take precedence over the SEC Game of the Week on November 14th. This scenario could easily arise in a spring season that would be competing with golf, NASCAR, baseball, and basketball. And with COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise, there’s still no guarantee that a spring season will allow for fan attendance, taking another revenue source away from universities.
Finally, the on-field product could have a possibility of looking very different in a spring setting. The NFL Draft is set to take place in April. A spring college football season may run from March to May. Would top draft candidates consider sitting out a portion of the year should the two events overlap? It may be a tough sell to convince a first-round pick to risk millions of dollars by playing in a late season contest.
With each of these things considered, it’s obvious that Power Five conferences will continue to lobby for a fall start until it becomes apparent that they cannot do so.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The Ivy League decision puts a pessimistic twist on the upcoming season, but Power Five conferences have maintained that they’ll continue to monitor the situation. The SEC, in particular, has stated that its decision will come at the end of July, just about a month before the season is set to kickoff. And the league seems to be doing all that it can to ensure that some sort of season is played before 2020 is done.
That being said, as we saw with college basketball, this could just be the first domino to drop. If safe options aren’t available, it would be impossible for universities to condone competition in September.
Today’s decision won’t be the end-all-be-all for the possibility of fall sports, but you can bet that administrators across the country will be watching.