For a multitude of reasons that have become clear over the past month, college football is uniquely exposed to the pressure points that the coronavirus pandemic in inflicting on the United States right now.
It's a truly national sport in ways that pro sports leagues are not. It's a sport where gathering thousands of fans in the stands is viewed as essential to the game's essence as the ball itself. And it's not a professional sport, so decisions of when to return aren't being made by profit-driven owners, but instead by presidents and chancellors with liability forefront on their brains.
And though the calendar reads April 13 as I write this, D-Day as to when some sort of decision on the 2020 college football season creeps closer by the second. Though it's clear that college football is exposed in a way that other sports are not, it's also clear that some sort of season has to be played. The entire college athletics industry will collapse without a football season played some time before summer 2021.
Rock, meet hard place.
On Sunday, ESPN's Chris Fowler went on Instagram (Fowler's Instagram page has quickly become one of the most reasoned corners of the CFB Internet) to talk through three of the scenarios he's heard bandied about in his circles.
Though there's nothing really earth-shattering here, Fowler talks through three options with the skill of a guy who's been talking to a camera for close to 30 years: play the season as scheduled, push it back to November and make it a 2-semester sport, or push it all the way back to the spring of 2021.
Fowler keeps it intentionally vague, but says "informed speculation" from "a lot of reasonable people" indicate the spring option could be the least risky of them all.
To be clear, all three options are gambles in their own right.
Keeping the season as scheduled gambles that the charts we all spend way too much time looking at each day flip, all in a relatively short time frame of three-ish months.
Pushing to November risks that the season starts as "scheduled" but never picks back up again if the virus re-emerges in the winter.
And punting all the way to February risks that February of 2021 looks a lot like March of 2020, but it provides five or six extra months of runway for the medical community to scale up testing, develop a widespread treatment, produce a vaccine, or some combination of the three.
View this post on Instagram
We are 20 Saturdays from the SCHEDULED start of CFB.. so how likely is that looking? What scenarios are being weighed? When will we know more? Who’s gonna decide all this? You sure are asking a lot of questions! And I get it. I’m starving for answers too. So here’s some “informed speculation” on where we are now after checking in with folks this week. I can only be so specific and people don’t want their names attached to this topic right now. But... here goes. Please comment with your take if you like. #cfb #collegefootball #football #sports @espn @espncfb
A post shared by Chris Fowler (@chrisfowler) on Apr 11, 2020 at 10:44am PDT
Playing a spring season would also be complicated in a number of unprecedented ways. Assuming the NFL and high schools play their seasons as scheduled, what happens to the incoming and outgoing crop of college players. Would draft-eligible juniors -- guys that were sophomores in 2019 -- sit out the season to prepare for the NFL Draft?
Would there be enough time to end a season in May or June and then pick back up in August of 2021?
What would be done with high school recruits in the 2021 class? Could they sign in December and start playing college football two months later, or would they become a class of grayshirts?
All of these are questions no one knows the answer to, but pushing the season to February would provide something that's tick, tick, ticking away from us here in April of 2020 -- time.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.