Every day leading up to the college football season feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop. The coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging our country and that is forcing changes across sports leagues. Professional leagues College Football Live Cast are engaging in discussions between players unions and the owners to promote safety. The reality of the NCAA is that players are not paid and it is more difficult to justify putting them in harm’s way.

The MEAC and Ivy League have already canceled their football seasons. The Big Ten announced that it will solely play conference games this season, which has a rippling effect on smaller programs like the MAC. When the Big Ten announced that they would only play in-conference games, it meant that Nebraska and Northwestern would be removed from Central Michigan’s roster. Central Michigan tight end Tony Poljan, a potential draft prospect, decided to transfer so that he would have the opportunity to show his skills against Power 5 schools. He has since landed at Virginia. Group of five teams are not only losing statement games, but they could be watching as their talent bolts for greener pastures. If the SEC were to play a conference-only schedule, it would remove Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Louisville and Eastern Illinois from UK’s schedule. Kentucky, and other SEC programs, would likely be on the hook for payments owed to those schools regardless of whether or not the games are played.

The reason for conference-only games is that teams would be playing the same opponents. It limits travel to certain towns and interactions with fewer people. If UK and Louisville meet late in the season, then the Cardinals will have traveled to Syracuse, Clemson and other schools. The Wildcats would be exposed to players that have traveled to different parts of the country whereas a conference-only schedule would limit exposure to only member cities.

NFL Media’s “Move the Sticks” podcast speculated about whether or not G5 schools might push their respective seasons back to the spring to allow more time for a vaccine. Those schools are not getting the type of television deals that the Oregons, Indianas, Kentuckys, Oklahoma States and N.C. State’s of the world receive. They rely on ticket sales. With states like Pennsylvania already prohibiting large crowds, it would mean zero attendance for schools in that state, which would deter schools that rely on attendance from playing. If leagues wait until the spring to play, then potential draft picks will not be able to go through pre-NFL Draft events, such as the NFL Combine and senior showcases. The NFL Draft has taken place at the end of the April in recent years. If games are played as scheduled this fall, then it will certainly mean changes to game day atmosphere and seating capacity.

If the college football season does go on as planned, what happens if a player tests positive? One would think that they will be quarantined for a few weeks, which would mean the loss of at least one and potentially more games. What if that player is Terry Wilson or another key player? What if Kyle Trask at Florida tests positive? It could have huge implications on the coming season. I firmly believe that UK is fielding one of their most talented, deep rosters this fall but there is so much that must go off without a hitch for it to be a success.

There is also a discussion that draft-eligible players might choose to sit out this season rather than contracting COVID-19 or putting together bad film in an unorthodox year. In all likelihood, the only players that will consider this option are those that receive early round grades. Those projected to be taken on Day 2 or later will likely be motivated by the opportunity to improve their stock.

The Southeastern Conference announced that their institutions will honor a player’s scholarship even if the player determines that they are uncomfortable playing for health or safety reasons. The NCAA could eventually take it a step further and allow that player to retain a year of eligibility as well.

Despite players returning to campus, there is so much left to sort out before the Week 1 kickoff. No one knows what will happen but there are big time ramifications behind each decision.
Mark September 26th on your calendar now. That’s the day that the Pac 12 opens their regular season, featuring two important match ups. The Cal-Berkeley Bears will face the Utah Utes, and the Arizona State Sun Devils will face the University of Southern California Trojans.

Why that date? Because we might witness the first FBS football player boycott in recent NCAA history. Over the weekend, word leaked out that a number of players from Cal and ASU are very angry and concerned about, among other things, a lack of communications coming from their administrations over Covid-19 protections.

According to former ASU QB and current podcaster Rudy Carpenter, players from the Pac 12 have been meeting regularly to prepare a list of “demands” they feel are not being addressed by their schools.
As the NCAA is dragged kicking and screaming towards the New World Order of Names, Images and Likenesses (see the summary sheet of their proposed talking points for the Senate Hearing scheduled for Wednesday, July 22), this move by the players could upend the entire paradigm.

Most fans have a sense of how much money comes into the Power 5 Conferences (if not, here’s a quick reminder). But the Pac 12 is near the bottom of total revenues as compared to their peers. In 2018, the Pac 12 lost $12.5 million —according to Steve Berkowitz of USA Today, “the decline comes from the conference’s inability to increase its income enough to fully offset getting virtually no payout from the Rose Bowl that year. It’s an occurrence that will happen every third year, when the event becomes a College Football Playoff semifinal rather than a game set to feature the Pac-12 champion. According to the conference, as the numbers are reported on the tax document, the Rose Bowl payout difference was about $36.5 million”. They also pay their conference commissioner, Larry Scott, $5.3 million per year (plus benefits), but that’s another article.

Compared to the Big Ten, who received $54.5 million per school in 2018, the Pac 12 distributed $29.5 million. No wonder Stanford just dropped 11 sports.

Whether we actually get to see a college football season in the FBS conferences is very much up in the air. Covid-19 is raging in California and Arizona; there are not nearly enough tests, and the turnaround time for getting results is staggeringly slow. In Los Angeles, the public school system announced they are going fully online beginning in the fall. USC announced they changed their mind and are going to remote learning. I’m still not sure why playing football is still even on the table given earlier pronouncements.

Given all of this unprecedented turmoil, I could see the Pac 12 looking for a bailout, perhaps from a new conference partnership. Hello, Big Ten? How about an East/West division? The Power 5 becomes the Fab Four.

Think about it. One should never let a good crisis go to waste.
The July developments of conference-only schedule announcements from the Big Ten and Pac-12 worried many and was described by some as a domino falling toward the cancelation of the 2020 college football season. Urban Meyer, however, saw the developments as positives.

The former Florida and Ohio State head coach was recently interviewed on Fox News’ “Bill Hemmer Reports.” During the interview, he cited the conference-only announcements as the reason his optimism has recently increased.

“Two weeks ago, yes,” Meyer said. “Last week, medium. I’m back to yes. We’re going to play. We’re going to play. I’ve just got so much confidence the way these universities are handling this right now. I love the fact that we went conference-only, because they can have control over the protocol, and start-stop dates, etc. I’m optimistic right now.

“What really changed for me is the conference-only games.”

Meyer clarified that while he expects a college football season, it may not be a normal season.

“I didn’t say every conference is going to play. I didn’t say every team is going to play. I said we’re going to play college football. I really believe that conferences, presidents, ADs, and the commissioner(s) are going to work together with the head coaches, and they’re going to work this thing out,” Meyer said. “I just have a lot of confidence in our scientists — the team doctors – I really do. I’ve talked to a few of my colleagues that I’m really close with and I really believe we’re going to get that done.”

As a FOX Sports analyst with an extensive coaching tree (Dan Mullen, Ryan Day, Tom Herman, etc), Meyer remains one of the most well-connected people in college football even as a retired coach. His optimism will be well-received by many fans.