The Back Nine: More guesses than answers to college football season

The Pac-12 has set Sept. 26 as the start of its 10-game conference-only football schedule. The Pac-12 announced three weeks ago it would eliminate nonconference games for its 12 member schools. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)
The Back Nine comes at you as we enter the 21st week of this situation and the good news is we have sports. The bad news is we have no idea for how long.
10. The news that came out over the weekend was sobering and certainly should strike a chord with everybody, especially the leaked call between the SEC and some of its student athletes. Yes, they want to play, but they’d like some answers. And even though most of the people in the know have way more knowledge than we do, they don’t know either. You cannot help but expect the players to feel like sacrificial lambs to an extent. And it is also clear that the events of the past few months have emboldened the players to speak out more and they realize they indeed have some power. This goes back to what I said about the SEC releasing its plan for playing games — it’s hardly etched in stone. More like pencil with a really big eraser. In a way, the players are like the fans — we want answers for questions that have no answers. Only guesses. It will be interesting to see where this goes from here concerning opt-outs at the college level. Certainly we are understanding why potential first-rounder Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech got out after he revealed the blatant disregard for the heath of the players.
11. Meanwhile on the Left Coast, the Pac-12 is dealing with some players threatening to opt-out of the season based on legitimate concerns, but probably went too far. We’ve seen these happen before, but you have to temper your demands to get what you want. We get that the NCAA and universities have totally blown it with the Name, Likeness and Image deal, but to be demanding a six-figure salary or you won’t play may be taking it too far considering the budget issues that every school is going to be facing. This is still amateur sports and I don’t think football players realize the damage they could do to other sports. What if the colleges said, OK, you get $100,000 a year to play football here. However, you have to pay for tuition, get your own health insurance, hire a tutor and find a place to eat? I’m not trying to be cruel, but the value of a scholarship is pretty high plus there are stipends. Yes, coaches and administrators are making way too much money at some places, but that’s a supply and demand equation. Believe me, you don’t lure coaches away to your school because of the scenery. Still, the rudderless NCAA is the reason the players feel this way now and when you see Washington State, according to reports, release players who attached their name to the cause, well, that’s a really bad look for that school. This is going to be a fascinating story to watch and could be the end of the NCAA and possibly the end of this season, which would mean the end of a lot of things in college sports.
12. And then we have the story about how Power 5 schools might break away from the NCAA and conduct their own championships if the Board of Governors votes not to have them Tuesday. As Ralph Russo of the Associated Press pointed out, don’t think the Power 5 breaking free is going to result in anything more than another NCAA. And we also heard about the Group of Five teams, who have been left off the schedules, waiting until the spring and having their own playoff. It’s chaos, I tell you, cats and dogs living together. Remember when the big controversy was who was going to start at tailback?
13. It does feel like we are more at a crossroads for the eventual future of college sports than the near future. True or false? Discuss.
14. So it took less time for Billy Donovan to be named Coach of the Year (co-coach actually) in the NBA than it did in the SEC? Congrats to Billy and I guess all of those people who thought he was in trouble earlier this year can relax now. In all of our discussions this spring after the shutdown, you could tell he is really happy in the NBA. That can be seen as an indictment on college basketball, where the FBI had to get involved to reveal how bad the cheating was. Or not. We have never had that discussion but I think he saw the mess coming. Every once in a while I allow my mind to wander back to the days that Steve Spurrier and Billy Donovan were both at Florida and realize I probably — as a sportswriter — had it better than most hacks ever will.
15. The Associated Press pushed back the date when our votes are due for the Top 25 basically so we can wait to see what the college football schedules look like. And I appreciate that. I still don’t know if we will have a season, but if we do, and there are no disruptions, it could be pretty amazing. I get the impression from Florida fans that it doesn’t matter what two teams are added to the schedule even if there is an argument that the league is not being fair. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough, right? You have 14 fan bases in this conference and some of them are not going to be happy when the new schedules come out. That’s inevitable. But some people are not happy when they wake up in the morning (he said, looking in the mirror). I am so curious to see if the SEC follows the lead of the Pac-12 and opens with huge games like Georgia-Alabama or LSU-Florida or front ends the schedule with division games. OK, things like that give me something to talk about. I’m obsessed. It’s not healthy.
16. Well, we finally have a major in golf this week and it should be a dandy even if there are no fans. The good news is that the best players in the world are playing well so I hope we get a back-nine shootout on Sunday. It felt that once baseball came back, it said to golf, “Thanks for holding my place in line.” And now basketball is back, but so far it’s not moving the needle for me. Golf needs a great week at Harding Park. Baseball needs to get through this and not have to postpone anymore games. Basketball needs the playoffs to go ahead and start. And then, perhaps, we’ll feel closer to normal.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to my friend Herb Vincent, who is in charge of communications and other things at the SEC office — “An open letter to my many friends texting and calling me this morning: there is not a 2020 @SEC football schedule yet. Really. The format was decided yesterday. Like everything else during this pandemic, it’s one step at a time. Have a nice weekend.” Yes, I was among them who bombarded Herb last week. And I did have a nice weekend. Now, WHEN DO WE GET THE SCHEDULE!?
18. My wife and I drove to Palm Coast to see her dad and brother and I was in charge of the music. But I have to be careful not to get too adventurous and kind of stick to soft, background music. Sorry, if I now feel a need to cut loose on this playlist:
* “You Can Leave a Mess In Here By Leon In The Wild.
* “I Drove All Night” by Roy Orbison.
* “Like The Dawn by The Oh Hellos.
* “Spread Your Wings by Queen.
* And for another old one, my buddy Matt Hayes sends me a text that he can either call me or keep listening to this song and he called so I promised to include this — “Back On The Road Again by REO Speedwagon.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. I’m much more interested in starting and sustaining a season. Starting and having to stop because of bunch of players/coaches get sick will be a catastrophe of Biblical proportion. I’d rather have no college football for (1) season (even though I like the Gators’ chances this year) than it all blown to bits (which might still be the case).

    I am VERY nervous about this initiative to pay players. It’s good to want things. But as Pat points out, paying football will wipe out almost all other sports. And Pat is so right (yes, I said it) about the value of that scholarship. It gets routinely down-graded a LOT on those talking head shows on ESPN. But what these guys get more than anything else is contacts/relationships that last the rest of their lives. They get to know people get open doors just by playing a sport. Having a degree from UF had been of great value to my career. But how much more valuable would it be to say “Oh yeah, I played for Coach Spurrier”?

  2. It’s easy to check the CDC page to verify COVID is of little danger to the young people. It has been hideously amplified into far more danger than it has manifested. We are witnessing an “exaggeration hoax” much like the Kavanaugh rape accusations, russian collusion, peeing on hookers, etc. We can document a pattern of serial political hoax-exaggerations the last 4 years.

    You can quickly see the mortality among youths is almost zero, it’s the blue line barely visible above the X axis – Pat, that’s the horizontal axis at the bottom.