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Covid cancellation policies for each FBS conference (so far)

The second college football season of the covid pandemic will be much different than the first.

College football games will be played this coming Saturday. The 2021 season is here. 

Following the ongoing headaches of last fall, the 2021 will be the most anticipated in the game's history. A full schedule, packed stadiums, the pomp and circumstance we all know and love are back. Unfortunately, so is COVID-19.

The virus is still with us, but just how often an unwelcome guest it will be remains to be seen. Thus far two FBS teams (Arizona and Ole Miss) claim a 100 percent vaccination rate among their team population, with many more close to that number. The science tell us the vaccines effectively blunt -- but do no eliminate -- the virus's impact enough to tell us that a fully (or largely) vaccinated team is safe against infections and cancellations. When's the last time a Major League Baseball game was canceled, after all?

Still, we're being naive not to believe that the 2021 season will go off completely unimpeded, and so each conference has or will release its own cancellation policy. 

Thus far, as of Monday, Aug. 23, four conferences have published policies. 

ACC: Teams unable to field a team will take a forfeit. If both teams cannot field a team, each will take a forfeit. 

In the sports of football, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball:

  1. If a 2021 ACC game cannot be played on its originally scheduled date by a team unable to play due to an insufficient number of available players related to COVID-19, that team shall be deemed to have forfeited, with a loss assigned to the team unable to play and a win assigned to its scheduled opponent, with both the loss and win, respectively, applied to the conference standings.
  2. If a 2021 ACC game cannot be played on its originally scheduled date due to any factor(s) directly associated with a Game Discontinuation Consideration as listed in the current ACC Medical Advisory Group (MAG) Report, the Conference’s sport rescheduling policy shall apply.
  3. If a 2021 ACC game cannot be played on its originally scheduled date due to both teams being unable to play due to an insufficient number of available players related to COVID-19, both teams shall be deemed to have forfeited, with a loss assigned to both teams and applied to the conference standings.

Big 12: Forfeit if one team can't play, no contest if both teams can't.

The Big 12 Conference has set its game threshold policy for the upcoming season. In the event a Conference game is canceled due to a team not having enough student-athletes to compete (due to COVID-19 or for any reason), that team will forfeit and will be credited with a loss in the Conference standings. The opponent will be credited with a win in the Conference standings. Both teams will be deemed to have played the game for purposes of Conference standings only. A forfeit can be declared at any point before a completed contest, and when possible would occur prior to the visiting team commencing travel. Additionally, if both teams are unable to compete, a No Contest would be declared and, if needed, an unbalanced tiebreaker would be utilized to determine Conference championship participants in football or championship seeding in other sports. The Commissioner retains discretion to declare a No Contest if extraordinary circumstances warrant. 

ACC: Forfeit if one team can't play, no contest if both teams can't.

In collaboration and communication with the Big Ten Conference Athletic Directors, Chancellors and Presidents, the Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the Sports Medicine Committee – effective today – the conference has determined that if one of its member institutions is unable to play a conference contest due to COVID-19, that contest shall be declared a forfeit and will not be rescheduled. That contest shall be considered a loss for the team impacted by COVID-19 and a win for its opponent in the conference standings. If both of the two competing teams are unable to participate in a scheduled Conference competition due to COVID-19 and as a result the competition is unable to occur on the calendar day on which it is scheduled, the competition shall be considered a “no contest.”

Pac-12: Play or take a forfeit.

Any forfeited contest shall be regarded as a conference loss for the team making the forfeit and a conference win for its opponent. The Pac-12 rule provides the Commissioner with discretion to determine whether an institution is at fault or primarily at fault for an instability to play a contest based on the facts of the situation.

SEC: Though nothing is official yet, Greg Sankey has told us his conference won't be so forgiving this time around. According to Andy Staples, the league will consider financial penalties on top of a loss in the standings for any team(s) that can't field a team.

Essentially, if canceled games cost the league television money, then schools whose teams had to forfeit would receive less from the conference's revenue-sharing agreement than schools that did not have to forfeit games. The idea behind this is to avoid penalizing schools that had their teams ready to play.

This is similar to the NFL policy, where not only will a team that can't play take a forfeit, but players from both teams will lose game checks for any unplayed games -- whether their team was "at fault" or not.

• If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.

• If a game is rescheduled due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club experiencing the outbreak will be responsible for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team and will also be required to pay any shortfall between actual and expected payment to the VTS pool.

• If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players on one of the competing teams, that club will forfeit the contest and will be responsible for the lost payment to the VTS pool.

• If a game is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule due to a Covid outbreak, neither team's players will receive their weekly paragraph 5 salary.

Moving forward, two big questions remain.

1) Who's in charge here? 

If it becomes clear on Wednesday that my opponent for that Saturday's game isn't going to play, what incentive do I have to report my own team's covid outbreak? If keeping your outbreak quiet is the difference between a win and a loss (or a no-contest) who is going to be honest in that situation?

The question here boils down to the reporting policy each conference has, what safeguards are in place to make sure each school is being honest, and who enforces the conference's reporting protocols?

2) How will voters react? 

Sympathy abounded last fall given we were dealing with a novel virus with no vaccine in sight. Times are different now, obviously. If conference offices are willing to slap a forfeit loss on teams that can't play, will voters -- particularly the College Football Playoff selection committee -- be as harsh?

The committee lifted Ohio State into the Playoff at 6-0 despite three no contests, including one (the Illinois game) on their own end. What happens if history repeats itself, especially if a highly-ranked team takes a forfeit for a game it was favored to win by multiple touchdowns? When push meets shove, who gets the No. 4 seed: a team with one loss on the field or an "undefeated" team with two forfeits? 

These are bridges that can't be crossed until we arrive, but here's hoping the path never requires us to cross certain streams. 

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