This week has been full of high drama in the Big Ten about a return as soon as October, and yesterday saw a breakthrough in the Pac-12 that could see that league back on the field before the calendar turns to 2021.
But most conferences do not have an army of angry supporters banging at the doors of the conference office, nor do they have a luxury of partnering with a testing manufacturer to produce on-demand testing. And those conferences need a plan.
Such a plan is coming together.
West Virginia AD Shane Lynons is the head of the Football Oversight Committee, and so it's been his principal responsibility to carve out an on-the-fly framework for how to make football work outside of football season. (Ironically, Lyons is doing all that while his own football team prepares to play starting next weekend.)
Length of season. The NCAA will not install a uniform start date, but once teams begin playing, they'll have 13 weeks to complete a regular season that must conclude by April 17. “We’re providing maximum flexibility in the models,” Lyons told the Associated Press. “If the Big Ten wants to start Thanksgiving weekend, fine start Thanksgiving weekend. And they would have until early February until their 13 weeks would run out.”
Postseason. The FBS postseason, as we know, is held outside of the NCAA's purview. But the NCAA does run the FCS playoffs, and the structure of that event has been an open question given that -- knock on wood -- the NCAA is going to be tasked with running fall, winter and spring sport championships all at once, more or less.
There have been rumors that fall sports championships would see their fields cut in half, as priority will go to winter and spring sports that saw their championships canceled in 2020. "The priority remains preserving opportunities for winter and spring sport student-athletes who did not have the chance to participate in NCAA championships in 2019-20," the NCAA said on Aug. 21.
Lyons essentially confirmed as much, telling the AP that the FCS playoffs will be held in the four weeks after the regular season is complete. The event typically contains 24 teams and lasts five rounds, so it sounds like the spring 2021 event will indeed be slimmed down.
Early enrollees. There's been lots of speculation since the summer that players who enroll in January 2021 will be able to compete immediately for their teams, essentially giving them two true freshman seasons while plugging roster holes of players who opt out, turn pro or graduate and move on with their lives.
It sounds like this will not be the case. In fact, not only will high school signees not be allowed to compete in the spring, neither will JuCos or transfers.“They can practice, but not compete,” Lyons told the AP.
Fall practices. This is probably the biggest question mark hanging out in the ether. Lyons said the committee is working on a model, but teams who hold something akin to a typical spring practice in the fall will not be allowed to double dip by holding another spring practice next spring.
So, teams who play from January to March could hold "fall ball" practices in October and November, but they could not turn around and have another round of spring practices in April and May.
Dead period. Lyons said the oversight committee will recommend extending the dead period through Halloween. At this point, it will be news when the longest dead period in NCAA recruiting history is not extended.