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Despite Growing Uncertainty, Odds Still Against FBS College Football Shifting to Spring 2021 Season

Blair Johnson

by Blair Johnson in College Football

Updated Jul 17, 2020 · 12:14 PM PDT

Ohio stadium
Will the Horseshoe at Ohio State be empty this Fall after a cancelled football season? Photo from Wiki Commons.
  • The NCAA released recommended guidelines for a return to fall sports Thursday that includes weekly COVID-19 testing and two-week quarantines
  • The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they will play conference-only slates, while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC will wait until later this month to make a decision
  • A potential move to a Spring 2021 season could mean top talent might opt out, as the odds in the story suggest

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging in the United States (the U.S. just reported a record number of cases Thursday), the 2020 college football season is in more doubt than ever. The NCAA released its recommended guidelines for the upcoming fall sports slate – which, of course, includes football. The new policies are expected to be adopted into universal policies by the Power 5 conferences, according to Sports Illustrated. Needless to say, the guidelines are daunting.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced a conference-only schedule if a season is played, while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC are taking a wait-and-see approach.

And there’s been rumblings that a possible solution – a Spring 2021 season – would see the likes of top prospects like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields opt out of playing. Perhaps that’s why the odds are sill in favor of a fall schedule.

Odds FBS College Football Season Postponed Until Spring 2021?

Outcome Odds
Yes +120
No -160

Odds taken July 17th

Just a week ago, these odds were the same, with both scenarios at -120.  Let’s dig in and analyze the options.

How Is Football Going to Happen?

The key takeaway from the NCAA’s fall sports guidelines is an emphasis on contact tracing. If a player were to test positive for COVID-19 (through regular testing – which is also part of the plan), the player would be asked to quarantine for 10 days while those who were found to have been in close contact with positive cases will be asked to quarantine for 14 days. Right off the bat, this seems like an impossible scenario.

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And remember, college football players are student-athletes. They cannot be confined to a bubble like the NBA’s return-to-play plan. The questions on logistics don’t end there.

The NCAA is also recommending all players, along with all coaches and staff, wear masks when they are on the sidelines. The NCAA also says “schools may want to consider the effectiveness of face shields” as well.

Power 5 Conferences’ Call

Ultimately, any decision to play in the fall or spring – or not at all – rests with the Power 5 conferences. The Ivy League became the first conference to cancel its season last week. But as historic as the rivalry between Harvard and Yale is, “The Game” is not LSU-Alabama in early November.

Everyone wants to play. But doing so safely is the issue. The prospect seems like a Herculean one in the face of a global pandemic.

While two of the big boy leagues made the first move with the Big Ten and Pac-12 moving to a conference-only slate in 2020, Orgeron’s SEC is holding off on a decision. According to multiple reports, an alliance between the ACC, Big 12 and SEC could be in the works. The SEC is trying to maintain in-state rivalries like Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech – while also crafting an agreement with the Big 12, in hopes of giving every SEC program one non-conference game. Whether or not this happens is anyone’s guess.

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Urban Meyer, who knows the Big Ten and SEC very well, is calling for a different look. “It’s a 10-week season with three bye weeks” Meyer said.

“I think you still keep the conference championship games intact, understanding that might not happen, but still put it on the schedule a little later in the month of December. Still plan on a College Football Playoff and bowl games.  I think the idea of three bye weeks, in case there is something that happened where a team gets really impacted by the virus, hopefully it’s around one of those bye weeks.”

Spring Fling

If there is to be college football this fall, it seems likely it will be postponed. But what about the spring option? A possible vaccine could be on the horizon and a slate between the weekend after the Super Bowl running through Memorial Day weekend is a possible option. But even this scenario has issues.

Speaking with Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah believed “40 to 50 players” could sit out the season if it was moved to the first half of 2021. That means marquee players and potential No. 1 picks like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Buckeyes signal caller Justin Fields would likely opt out.

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour has called the spring plan a “last resort.”

“One of the biggest challenges [of a spring season] – and it’s probably the biggest one in my mind – is the proximity to next season, and frankly a second lost spring ball,” Barbour told ESPN. “Overcomeable, if perhaps we’re willing to have a shortened season – again in the category of ‘something is better than nothing,’ that may not be a problem at all.”

So, where does it all leave us? It seems a fall slate is still more likely than a spring one. But, at this point with more and more COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and no end in sight – it seems no college football season is most likely.

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