Let’s indulge. For a few blissful moments, let’s imagine that the revised ACC football schedule unwrapped last Thursday will transpire.
UVA at Virginia Tech in Week 2? Bring it.
The Hokies and Cavaliers both confronting Trevor Lawrence and Clemson? Yes, please.
Notre Dame at North Carolina on Black Friday? The Fighting Irish hosting Louisville and Clemson? Provide the kick times, and we’ll set the DVR.
Alas, it’s folly.
Four nonconference games on the docket already are toast, this after the Mid-American Conference opted Saturday not to play fall sports, followed by Old Dominion on Monday. The Detroit Free Press reported Monday that the Big Ten, less than a week after releasing a football schedule, is poised to bow out, which would put the remainder of the Power Five — the ACC, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 — on the clock as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
“The ACC is moving forward, no matter what any other conference does — Big Ten, Pac-12,” a defiant Scott Satterfield, Louisville’s football coach, said Monday during a virtual news conference. “We’re moving forward, and it’s because of the advice we’re getting from our medical advisory board. They’re saying that we’re OK to keep pushing forward. Our presidents are OK to keep pushing forward. So that’s what we’re going to do — until we hear otherwise.”
False bravado? A preview of the Power Five splintering on a momentous decision with legal and moral overtones?
Answers appear imminent. But this much is certain: The dynamic between athletes and athletic departments will never be the same.
As administrators calculated their next moves, football players from across the spectrum, headlined by the Twitter force of nature that is Lawrence, countered with impassioned pleas to soldier on. #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited are their succinct hashtags, the latter an unsettling prospect to the legion of college sports officials who fear athletes banding together, perhaps via union.
Name, image and likeness rights; agent representation; enhanced and guaranteed health coverage; a greater voice in decision-making: Those are just some of the changes coming to a campus near you, no matter when competition resumes, and that’s a good thing.
Not 100 hours have passed since the ACC’s schedule announcement, and the subsequent torrent of news has been constant, confusing and revealing, exposing the enterprise as rudderless during arguably its greatest crisis.
So frayed are conferences that ODU athletics director Wood Selig said Monday that he can imagine segments of the ACC, SEC and Big 12 banding together to attempt a fall football season.
Seems drastic, but at this point, nothing would register on the shock meter. Just contrast Satterfield’s remarks with those of Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, whose program has not discovered a COVID-19 infection in its last two rounds of testing.
“The [COVID] numbers nationally and the numbers worldwide just don’t seem to reflect progress,” he said Monday, “and so regardless of how well we do within football [testing], I have to acknowledge that as well. …
“There just seems to be a lot more that hasn’t been controlled effectively that eventually we’re going to run into if we want to play, and those questions still linger.”
Contrast also Mendenhall’s somber tone Monday with his enthusiasm when the schedule was released.
“Playing the Virginia Tech game early I think maybe gives a sense of hope and optimism to our state … and maybe to college football,” he said. “If there is to be a season, and we’re going to play it, having some of those games early on, I think, was intentional maybe to add some momentum to the season.”
Other conferences took a similar approach. The Pac-12 had UCLA playing Southern California on Sept. 26, and the Big Ten had Michigan-Ohio State set for Oct. 24.
The season could be (“have been” for you fatalists) grand.
Virginia and Virginia Tech both playing all four North Carolina schools for the first time since the Hokies joined the conference in 2004. Notre Dame playing in a conference for the first time.
From the returning starters to intriguing transfers, the quarterback position alone could have filled volumes.
Lawrence, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker, Louisville’s Micale Cunningham, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Notre Dame’s Ian Book combined to throw 156 touchdown passes last year, with only 37 interceptions.
Transfers such as D’Eriq King (Houston to Miami), Chase Brice (Clemson to Duke), Phil Jurkovec (Notre Dame to Boston College) and Keytaon Thompson (Mississippi State to UVA) figure prominently in their first seasons with their new teams, whenever that might be.
Absent divisions — we can only hope that model grows on league athletic directors — the ACC championship game would match the teams with the two highest conference winning percentages.
Mendendall and Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente were just grateful to have a schedule.
“These kids and coaches … become creatures of habit and structure,” Fuente said, “and to say that we haven’t had that would be an understatement. I sensed a little more energy and, I don’t know if relief is the right word, excitement, or lower anxiety level that we actually knew a name on a schedule and not just a date.”
“My team cheered when I announced the schedule,” Mendenhall said. “When they saw the dates, when they saw the opponents, they said that just made the bubble easier.
“So, life in the bubble is mundane, it’s monotonous. They’re doing a lot of the same things. They’re masking, they’re social distancing, they’re quarantining, they’re staying inside. And like all of us, they’re wrestling and struggling with that. To have something solid, some dates that are actually in front of them to shoot for has been helpful.”