If we needed any more examples about how shaky the prospects are for the 2020 college football season, they were delivered in the last couple of days.
There was Mark Emmert, the grand exalted poobah of the NCAA, saying this on Friday — “All of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus.”
This, a day after Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this — “I suspect there may be some institutions that are 100% online, and if they are and if that’s also what the student-athletes are doing, I think that meets the criteria.”
Gentlemen, prepare for a wild ride this summer.
We will have a college football season because we have no choice. The college athletics financial model is so fragile that college football must be played in some shape or form so that enough money can be generated to fund the other sports.
“Whatever form it takes,” said Tony Barnhart, Mr. College Football, “it takes.”
One of the biggest problems college sports has is the lack of one voice with ultimate authority. As a result, there is no clear definition of how we are going to attack what will be a strange season.
“I’ve been saying for years there needs to be a commissioner of college football,” said Fox Sports’ Tim Brando. “You look at how the NFL is handling this and how college football is handling this and it’s painfully obvious that there is leadership on one side and not the other.”
Instead, what we have here is a failure to communicate. College football is governed not by a commissioner or czar or dictator, but by the five families. They are the commissioners of the Power Five and each will do what’s in the best interest of their conferences.
That’s why we heard Greg Sankey say more than a week ago — and I’m exaggerating here — that if some teams or conferences are not ready to play this fall, they may be sleeping with the fishes.
All that said, get ready for what may be a bizarre college football season.
“Everything is on the table,” Brando said.
We could have conference games only, eight-game seasons, schools left out, some conferences starting in February, a season that is a two-parter, bowl games in May, a playoff that has its semifinals the week before the Super Bowl. We could have small crowds, no crowds, fans who cannot be admitted without their temperature and bladders checked.
Anything is possible. And necessary.
“The psychological component is going to be fascinating,” Barnhart said.
Here’s the thing — whatever it takes to have some semblance of a season will happen. What can’t happen is that we have to do this again in 2021.
We know that this college football season is going to be one we write about for decades. By the time it’s settled, we may have some people wanting to put an asterisk next to the champion’s name.
That’s fine. But if we have to keep doing this, college football will never be the same. It will lose everything we love about it. One season with a governor is one thing. We can deal with whatever strange format that is delivered to us.
But two in a row? For a sport with dwindling attendance and extravagant expense accounts?
I’m not sure it could recover.
We can take whatever the commissioners want to dish out this season. But another one like it and a lot of fans will push the plate away.
That said, we all know the virus is the true commissioner of college football, the NBA, the NFL, the PGA Tour, NASCAR, the NHL and the American Dodgeball Association of America.
We’ll gut it out this year even if we get schedules like our grandfathers used to nail to the wall of the shed.
Just don’t do it again next year. Please.