For all the complaints about the Southeastern Conference and the other Power 5 leagues that have yet to announce any firm decision about the 2020 college football season, it is obvious that the delay has nothing to do with “not wanting to play football.”
Economics are the driving factor and the SEC, along with the Big XII and the Atlantic Coast Conference are doggedly holding on to every possible scenario that would allow every possible game to be played, right up until a 12-game season. If that were not the case, we would have heard some sort of decision before the start of the season was just six weeks away. That’s not a criticism of commissioners or athletic directors, whose primary job is to keep the money flowing. It’s just a recognition that those leagues, like the NBA, NHL and (especially) the NFL are big businesses. College presidents might have other considerations, but they get it. No one is going to walk away from the money unless there is no other way.
If you needed any evidence, it’s the frenzy over guessing about Alabama’s September 5 opponent, the fill-in for USC. First, it was Notre Dame. There had been contact but no real way to make the logistics work on a date where Notre Dame already has a game with Navy. There has been talk along about TCU but again that doesn’t seem to have taken root. Then came speculation — the rumors appeared first on al.com on Saturday — that BYU would be the next candidate.
The deal isn’t done, but there are talks in progress. BYU is desperate for September games and Alabama has essentially exhausted its Power Five options. There is even a chance that BYU would come to Tuscaloosa on opening week (they did so in a 1998 one-off game) even though Alabama’s target date for completing its stadium expansion isn’t until the following week. Part of that equation is determining how many fans, if any, will be allowed to attend, and whether certain areas could be fast-tracked to completion or not used for that game.
That’s a lot of effort to find a game on a date if you don’t expect that there is a reasonable chance you will be playing on that date. Alabama is in a thornier thicket than most other SEC teams because of the Pac-12 cancellation; most other SEC teams already have a plus-one non-conference game on their slate.
If the coronavirus data matters above all, three questions arise. First, will the data really change that much from current levels in a week or two? Second, will a downward trend in the curve prompt another discontinuation of preventive measures that causes yet another spike? Third, how much money — i.e., games — are schools willing to trade in return for time, either a delayed start or increased open dates to increase schedule flexibility.
As we have said frequently, every step is merely a drop into a rabbit hole of speculation. The correct phrasing, though, is this. The major conferences will not make a “choice” not to play. They will play unless they have no choice.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt