Supporters of playing the 2020 college football season won an important victory on Friday when the NCAA Board of Governors voted to table a motion to scrap the FCS, Division two, and Division three football playoffs championships.
The conferences wrested effective control of what we think of as major college football, the Division One Football Bowl Subdivision, away from the NCAA in court in the 1980s; so the vote would not have applied to the University of Alabama, UAB, Auburn University, Troy University, and South Alabama. The NCAA leadership formally voting that it is not safe to play college football would have made it harder for the schools to play a 2020 college football season. The Board of Governors tabled the motion. It was not voted down and will return in the next Board of Governors meeting in August; but the move gives the Power Five conferences (the SEC, Big 12, ACC, Pac 12, and Big Ten), who collectively DO effectively control college football time to work on implementing a plan.
“Yesterday the Board of Governors decided to table the NCAA Championships vote until Friday 4 August, leaving many in suspense,” economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said. “We are true Alabama fans and also understand the severity of COVID-19. Though the Board of Governors does not have the authority to cancel college football per se, canceling championships could lead conferences to forgo games altogether (Why play for no ultimate prize?). If social distancing is deemed impractical, could a solution be to play (televised) without an audience?”
A source close to Auburn athletics says that playing a full twelve game season; but with no fans in the stands is an option that is on the table. That would be a crippling blow; however to college towns like Auburn and Tuscaloosa that are accustomed to having one hundred thousand visitors eight weekends each fall. Stores, restaurants, hotels, bars, etc. already reeling from fewer students on campus due to a switch to classes online would be hard hit without that anticipated football season revenue.
The problem is how do you play football in a state where 77,351 people have had the coronavirus and over half of those infections are in this month alone and are still active. Even assuming that the vast majority of those people self quarantine there are thousands, likely tens of thousands, of undiagnosed cases in the population. Many of those people are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and are unaware that they have the coronavirus; but still can transmit the virus.
The entire state is still under a Safer at Home order. Public health authorities are asking that if you don’t have to go out; then please stay at home. Given the surging cases, the governor is likely to extend the public health emergency into August. Stores, restaurants, and even Churches are having to operate at 50 percent of capacity. Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn both play games with well over 90,000 fans in the stands. The vast majority of those tickets have already been sold. Even if you limited attendance to 50 percent capacity, it would be difficult to maintain six feet of social distancing. Masks or cloth face coverings are presently required by order of Governor Kay Ivey (R) and public health officer Dr. Scott Harris and mandatory mask requirements in football stadiums are likely at this point. More guidance is anticipated from Gov. Ivey and Dr. Harris on large outdoor events before the season begins.
The PAC 12 and Big 10 conferences have already eliminated their out of conference opponents and limited their seasons to just ten games. Eliminating two or even three games is a possibility the SEC might consider to further mitigate the risk.
Not playing college football at all is a possibility that is still on the table; but forgoing all of the ticket revenue and the television and radio income would be a crippling blow to college athletics department budgets, which have already been stung by the canceling of the NCAA basketball tournaments and that revenue back in March.
Since there are over a hundred football players on a college football team, plus trainers, coaches, equipment managers, and other staff and the players are not professionals playing in a “bubble” like the NBA and NHL is doing with its players would be almost impossible.
The NCAA Board of Governors will meet again on August 4, meanwhile the Power 5 conference commissioners will continue to study how to safely play the 2020 college football season; and if that is even a possibility.
At this point, 149,849 Americans have died in the COVID-19 global pandemic, including 1,428 Alabamians. 502 Alabamians perished in July alone, the worst month of the pandemic for the state.