An SFBN Special Report - Part 1 of 2.
Providence, RI - As we come towards the last week of August, we continue to reflect on the bizarre nature of the year that 2020 has been. Where we normally would be gearing up for the college and high school sports seasons, we instead find ourselves questioning if or when students might actually even return to their school buildings and campuses.
Some colleges have allowed portions of their student bodies back on campus while others have opted to continue the remote learning process that began back in the spring through the remainder of the calendar year. University of Pennsylvania, which along with the rest of the Ivy League were the first to postpone fall athletic competition, has gone for in-person classes but is not letting its students return to dorms on their Philadelphia campus. Nothing has been normal since March and nothing will be normal for some time to come.
So where does this leave the college fall sports season and for that matter the high school sports season as well? A few states have opted to push their fall seasons to the spring and so to have some of the major college conferences as we saw cancellation reports come from two of the Power 5 conferences in the form of the Big 10 and PAC 12 along with some of the notable mid-major conferences like the Mountain West, Mid-American Conference and American Athletic Conference. Shortly after these conferences made individual announcements, the NCAA Board of Governors, looking at the numbers as many FCS, Division II and Division III conferences began to take the same actions, made the unprecedented call to move for a formal halt via compliance rules to all fall championships except for the College Football Playoff.
Why was one competition form left standing? Because in the bizarre world that is college athletics, the NCAA does not control Division I college football at the Major Conferences level. That is run independently of the NCAA BOG by the College Football Bowl Committee and the College Football Playoff Committee, so any halt or changes to post-season play regarding the litany of Bowl Games, the New Years Day Six, and the College Football Playoff Semifinals and National Championship Game must be decided by this group.
Who comprises the committee? Commissioners of the Power 5 Conferences, a selection of Athletic Directors from the Power 5 Conference schools and Jack Swarbrick, the current Athletic Director of the University of Notre Dame. Why does Notre Dame get its own seat at the table? The Fighting Irish are an independent for football, though they will play in the ACC for just this season, or whatever of the season may be, and are one of the most powerful and legendary programs in Major College Football, thereby granting them a voice in how the National Championship and the respective end of season bowls come to be.
So let’s just say for the course of this discussion that a number of conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big 12, which have not yet cancelled their fall seasons, decide to join the rest of the Power Conferences and move all of college football to the spring? Well, you’ve just opened a huge can of worms.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, or perhaps more well described as the Master of the Shield, has previously stated his opinion that he would prefer to not move the NFL’s traditionally scheduled draft from April. If there is no move of the draft date, how do this year’s college seniors and potentially first round picks like say Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields declare for the draft? Would they play their college “spring season” and perhaps forgo being drafted? I think anyone who bet that line needs to have their head examined immediately!
So then the other aspect comes in to play, if college football is played in the spring and the NFL doesn’t move its draft from the typical April timeline, we’re likely to see the biggest names in the game call it a career in college, in fact perhaps as many as 100 or more players would opt-out leaving many teams like Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame and more without much of a standing roster to be able to compete in a 10-12 game season.
What we would need, is for the NCAA to do something else that would be quite intriguing and yet just be another addition to the bizarre 2020 we’ve already had. Keep the December early signing date in-tact and allow the schools to retract scholarships from players who opt-out for the draft and fill their 85-man roster numbers with 2021 recruits that would early enroll at their respective schools. And if you think that’s not possible, we’ve already began to garner reports of top prospects informing their high school coaches they won’t play, in states that have moved their seasons to the spring, so they can declare early enroll at their universities and have been in touch with their college coaches to discuss “reserving spots” on the roster so that they can slide right into practices and potentially spring season games for the chance to run at a National Championship in a “true freshman” season. What else would this do? It would bring them one step closer, one year quicker to that three seasons played rule necessary to declare for early draft to the NFL.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the 25 blue chip recruits that will likely find themselves heading to college in January, including a slew expected to find themselves at New England region schools in the hopes of playing two seasons of football and make their path to the NFL expedited.