The NCAA Board of Governors could cancel fall sports championships as early as Friday, but the association’s Division I Football Oversight Committee has asked the governors for more time to assess the COVID-19 pandemic.
West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who chairs that committee, urged patience in a Tuesday email to the governors obtained by The Times-Dispatch.
“While experience has shown that the impact of the virus can shift dramatically from week to week, the committee strongly believes that a patient approach to evaluating the possibility of conducting 2020 fall championships will provide the remaining conferences and schools the best opportunity to make deliberate decisions about conducting practices and competition this fall,” he wrote.
“We acknowledge that the path forward will be challenging,” the email continues, “and that the virus may ultimately dictate outcomes. We are simply requesting that the Board of Governors not make an immediate decision on the outcome of fall championships, so that conferences and schools may have ample latitude to continue to evaluate the viability of playing football this fall.”
Chaired by Ohio State president Michael Drake, the Board of Governors next meets Friday and again Aug. 4. Cancellation of fall postseasons would scratch, among others, the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Several FCS conferences, including the Colonial Athletic Association and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, already have opted out of fall sports.
CAA and national FCS power James Madison is attempting to model an independent fall football schedule, and cancellation/postponement of the FCS playoffs would complicate those efforts.
Since they are not administered by the NCAA, the Football Bowl Subdivision and College Football Playoff could still stage a season.
But the oversight committee clearly wants to avoid the jarring optics of attempting to play while everything else in the college space is shuttered — witness Clemson’s decision to delay the start of in-person classes to Sept. 21.
Lyons’ email emphasizes the paramount importance of health and safety, and with virus rates surging and the nation’s testing infrastructure insufficient, few are optimistic about fall college football. But delaying the season until spring also is replete with hurdles — think television and NFL draft conflicts, plus the physical toll of two seasons in a calendar year.
Regardless of when the games might return, with football responsible for a majority of their athletics revenue, the 65 Power Five schools’ efforts to salvage the season are understandable.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who along with the Power Five commissioners manages the playoff, told ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Tuesday that he prefers an abbreviated regular season of 8-10 games starting later than the traditional Labor Day weekend. Delaying the season would give administrators and health care professionals time to study how August’s start of training camps and return of students to campuses affected virus rates.
“Throughout the past few months, the committee has been in constant contact with conferences and the membership in general,” Lyons wrote to the Board of Governors. “Feedback has consistently indicated that preserving a football season in the fall in some format is strongly preferred. Sentiment from our student-athlete connection group and the American Football Coaches Association has been consistent with that view.
“Institutions and conferences are working through the challenges of returning to campus and athletic activity in the current environment and committee members have noted the need for patience nationally.”
As the NCAA Board of Governors and Division I Football Oversight Committee navigate the pandemic, Power Five conferences are exploring their fall scheduling options. The Big Ten and Pacific 12 have opted for playing league games only — the number is unspecified — while the ACC, SEC and Big 12 hope to play some of their nonconference dates, especially traditional state rivalries such as Florida State-Florida, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia and Louisville-Kentucky.
The ACC’s 15 presidents meet virtually each Wednesday, and their decision on whether and how to play football this fall could come as early as next week and probably no later than Aug. 5.
The ACC, SEC and Big 12 could craft schedules that afford each team a nonconference Power Five game, not only helping their television partners but also giving the CFP selection committee at least a portion of the conference results it leans on to select the playoff’s four semifinalists.
“The committee recognizes that some conferences and schools have made the difficult decision to cancel all intercollegiate athletics this fall,” Lyons wrote. “However, others continue to consider alternative models in an attempt to preserve competitive opportunities for student-athletes this fall.”