Someone last week asked me if we were going to see football played this fall. The best response I could give was a shrug of my shoulders.
Ask me now, I’ll give you one answer. Ask me two weeks from now, I’ll probably give you a different answer. Ask me two weeks after that, and the answer might change again.
Such is reality in a landscape where what we know about COVID-19 – the vile virus that has left us in limbo with so many things beyond sports schedules — changes from day to day. With every new revelation or every new statistic, what we know about the immediate future of organized sports can take a sharp left turn.
That doesn’t just pertain to sports fans. That can pertain to sports conferences, too.
On Wednesday, the ACC announced how its football schedule would be structured in 2020. Ten conference games, along with one non-conference game, and that non-conference game must be played in the home state of the ACC team.
It didn’t dawn on me when it was announced, but SI.com columnist Pat Forde (who’s a pretty dang smart guy) sniffed it out. It was a move against the SEC, who hadn’t yet announced its scheduling plan. The ACC and SEC have a few pretty big in-state rivalry games – Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Louisville-Kentucky and South Carolina-Clemson. The way the ACC worded its plan, it gives the two conferences the ability to keep those games alive. If those rivalry games vanish, it would be on the SEC to do it.
And, essentially, it was the SEC to do it, announcing Thursday afternoon that it would play a 10-game conference-only schedule starting Sept. 26.
Forde said the reaction to the ACC’s move from SEC officials was “not pleased. Not pleased at all.” Unwelcome surprises usually aren’t.
It was probably the same feeling from a lot of other conferences a couple weeks ago when the Big Ten announced it was moving to a conference-only football schedule. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he was surprised by the announcement, as did Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who told 1400-AM in Norman, Oklahoma that “until this point we have been working amongst all of the conferences to try to make decisions that are consistent with each other.”
As we’re learning, the reality is its every conference for itself.
Marshall’s football schedule took a hit. The Thundering Herd was supposed to host Pittsburgh this fall, but that’s now off the books. West Virginia took a double-whammy. Not only did it lose a home game with Maryland with the Big Ten’s decision, but the ACC’s announcement robbed the Mountaineers of their scheduled season opener against Florida State in Atlanta. The game organizer’s backup plan, pairing WVU with Virginia, also went out the window.
Now what does this all mean for the Big 12, the last of the Power Five conferences to announce its 2020 scheduling model? The ACC, SEC and Big Ten have made some of its decisions for it. Does the conference try a conference schedule-plus-one concept? Who’s left to make that a lucrative idea? WVU still has a non-conference home game with Eastern Kentucky on the schedule, but does the Big 12 do its own conference-only slate?
Those questions are among the reasons the Big 12 canceled its virtual media day this coming Monday.
“A media day is intended to talk football and the prospects for the season,” Bowlsby said in the news release announcing the cancellation. “Part of that discussion is who you will be playing and when. With the on-going consideration of scheduling models by our Board of Directors, this is the best course of action at this time. “
And what does this mean for Group of 5 conferences – the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West, Mid-American and American? They’ll likely have to wait until all big boys figure themselves out before they know how many non-conference games they’ll play, if any.
And those non-conference games make a big difference in Group of 5 pocketbooks. They’re either lucrative “guarantee games” that can put seven figures in their coffers or home games around which they build their season-ticket drives.
College football could have avoided chaos if it could forge consistency. That’s not happening now, and every conference’s decision has a ripple effect through the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision. And none of this takes into account any possible widespread outbreaks that could slam the breaks on several teams’ seasons.
So when you wonder if college football happens this fall or in what iteration, just remember that the answer you get one day might not be the one you hear the next.