I don’t know if there will be college football in 2020 or not. I don’t know that, even if there is a season, it will look like every other season. No one knows.
Everything is speculation. Every solution, at this point, is hypothetical. No one knows whether a particular plan will work. That’s not to accuse anyone of “not planning” for the unprecedented. But the fact is, we as a nation are flying blind, hoping for a clear path and a smooth landing.
Since no one can speak with certainty about what “will” happen, it is perfectly possible to shoot down any plan. The one I am about to offer has holes in it. So does every other plan except “let’s all act like nothing will change.” That might work, after all.
The plan would do one thing. It would make things different. Not dramatically different, just different. It would be outside the current framework, not something that would fit smoothly in the box.
Maybe it’s time for that.
Maybe 2020 is that rare, one-time opportunity to try something different and do what human beings do best: learn. Learn what works and what doesn’t, not simply by talking about it — God knows we do enough of that — but by turning these circumstances into a small experiment in our favorite laboratory: College Football. So here it is.
First, the next deadline for actual college competition, or the preparation for competition, is what we call “spring football.” For player safety and proper preparation, you have to have it, in some fashion. But what if, instead of a mad rush to start that clock as soon as possible, we push things back.
Start practice on the normal start of practice, August 1. Take three weeks to have 12 practices — not quite 15, but the situation is going to force some compromises. Take a few mandatory days off — a week would be best — then come back and have game-preparation practice, aiming to start the season on the weekend of September 19.
Then, instead of a 12-game season, play 10. Yes, some good non-conference games would be lost, but so would a good-sized bakery counter full of cupcakes.
The 10 games would all be conference games. Five at home and five on the road.
Sorry, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson, this is your year to skip a rivalry. Unique circumstances and so forth. There might also be flexibility to play an 11th game and choose your rival if you want, while other teams either play a non-conference team or take a week off at mid-season. But the simple version is 10 conference games, followed by a championship game (and Army-Navy) weekend. If your conference doesn’t have 10 teams, someone plays someone else in the league in a home-and-home.
Yes, schedules are hard to remake but maybe if the bullet is dodged and there is a season, a little pinch here and tuck there will be necessary.
Then comes the playoff. The eight-team playoff. Five conference champions — not just the choices of a committee but five Power Five champions. There would also be two wild-card selections and one guaranteed Group of Five representative. The committee would thus still have something to do, and ESPN would have a weekly rankings show to talk things over. Four games on New Year’s weekend. If the Rose Bowl wants in, great. If not, take two teams that are left over and have a nice parade.
Semifinals would be January 9, the championship game on January 16.
That might reduce the breakneck pace at which practice resumes. It would give us 10 (or 11) weeks of really good matchups in the regular season. It would help the student-athlete. By starting on September 19, we might avoid a heat stroke in the stands here and then. Then we return to the status quo antivirus in 2021, but at least then, when we start talking about expanded playoffs or extra conference games, we would know what worked and what didn’t.
It’s just a plan. Who knows if a few weeks along the way will even matter? Who knows if someone somewhere won’t be flexible because of their own self-interest? Who knows, given the logistics, if it will fly at all? If I had all the answers and a magic wand, we’d be watching NCAA basketball right now.
But maybe it’s a chance to do educational, even extraordinary, things in extraordinary circumstances.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @cecilhurt