In a COVID-19-free world, the 2020 college football season would be starting less than one month from today. However, we still have no clue whether there will be college football in the fall despite the various conferences' attempts to salvage something from our unprecedented state of affairs.
Over the past few months, we've heard from analysts, athletic directors, coaches, epidemiologists and student-athletes about whether there can, should or will be a season.
What does the average fan think, though? And what will those people do with themselves on Saturdays between now and December if there isn't football?
We've entertained the notion of football without fans, but I'm legitimately concerned for the well-being of fans without football.
To find out how people are coping with the potential upcoming loss, I walked through my neighborhood and subsequently my in-laws' neighborhood and rang the doorbell of any house with a flag, mailbox covering, bumper sticker or garden gnome in the front yard advertising their support of a Power Five school.
With this unannounced approach to interviewing people, I expected a wider range of thoughts and emotions than if we had simply asked readers to provide their commentary on the matter. I anticipated we would hit on at least four, if not all five, of the stages of grief. (And I was a wee bit terrified what would happen if I encountered someone in the "anger" phase.)
Instead, it seems like almost everyone has already reached the point of acceptance that there won't be any college football.
The journey begins on a sweltering late July morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of those mornings where the thermometer says it's "only" 83 degrees but the humidity makes you sweat from every pore within five minutes of stepping outside. Really, just a fantastic day for spending two hours going door-to-door with a cloth mask over your face. Why did I think this was a good idea?
The first house has a little Miami Hurricanes flag in the mulch around the tree out front. The garage is open, displaying a shirtless man in his mid-40s sitting at a table watching TV.
Surely this gentleman has time for a quick chat.
When asked if he thinks there will be football this fall, he gives the universal sign for disappointed resignation: head shaking back and forth with eyes closed while letting out a big sigh. This is more or less the way all of the day's conversations would begin.
"Guess I'm just going to keep watching the reruns," he says with a laugh before adding, "I hate to be rude, but I am on a conference call here." I quickly apologize but can't help but notice this dude is wearing swim trunks. Business casual in 2020 is something else.
A bit further down the block is a house with a huge Syracuse flag hanging from the porch. Inside is David Chini, who offers up the same complete lack of optimism.
"I do not think there will be college football this fall," David says. "It just doesn't seem right to trot out kids who aren't paid with all the risks that could go on. To have a season, I think they would have to do some kind of catering of just a certain number of teams playing and just completely have other seasons. But that doesn't seem fair.
"So what am I going to do this fall? Uhh...I haven't thought that far ahead. I'll probably watch the NBA? The NBA will still be going on, right?"
That kind of depends on whether those guys keep breaking the bubble for food deliveries and strip clubs.
Anthony Maye is also hopeful the NBA will remain a viewing option for the next couple of months.
"I guess I'll watch basketball or baseball," Anthony says near his Alabama flag. "Or I'll keep on watching reruns? But I don't think there will be football this fall with everything going on. Hopefully they can play in the spring, but that might be out because of the pandemic too."
Scott Harrington lives just a couple of houses down from Anthony. He has a South Carolina Gamecocks flag in his front yard. He went to SC, and his daughter is currently a junior there.
"I don't know what the financial ramifications will be if you don't have the season, but I don't think there's going to be one," Scott says. "They're not even having in-person classes, so how can they play a collegiate sport? Even if fans aren't allowed at games, the fanbase is going to be too difficult to control. Because of that, you have a bigger risk in a college setting than you would in a professional football setting."
Scott adds that his family will likely do a lot more traveling, camping and hiking this fall if there's no football but that it's going to be weird not getting together with friends to watch football on Saturdays.
For Paul Cunningham—a "dyed in the wool" Nebraska fan—the thought of a fall without Cornhuskers games is a depressing one, but to him, it's more forgivable than inviting the risk of further COVID outbreak.
"My wife and I were born and raised in Nebraska," Paul says. "My mother worked for the ticket office for many years. So we're huge fans. Nebraska games are a religious event in our family. But this year, as much as I would love to see them play, I just cannot imagine anyone playing. Seems it would be criminally irresponsible. We've had to quarantine for three months just to see two of our grandkids."
It's at this point in our conversation that Paul's wife brings out his Huskers mask and a displeased look for the both of us.
"I thought we were far enough apart, but I guess I was wrong," Paul says with a classic been-married-for-many-years chuckle. "I'll probably just work in the yard this fall?" he adds uncertainly.
Virginia Tech fan Jessica Pagel shares a similar "bleak about the possibility of football, uncertain about what to do without football" frame of mind.
"I just don't think the safety is there for the student-athletes," Jessica says. "And watching [Major League] baseball games the other day, it just wasn't the same. What's the point of just the players showing up to play the game? But if they're on scholarship because of football, will they still let them stay enrolled if there isn't football? I still want them to get the benefits.
"If they don't play, hopefully the weather will be getting better in the fall so we can get out and about. We have two kids, so we'll be out playing with them, I'm sure. But it has been weird not to have sports in general."
Of all the folks I spoke with, NC State alum Tim Root was the only one with any tangible hope of watching college football in September. But even he acknowledges it's more about dollars and cents than common sense.
"The amount of money that would be lost from a canceled season could cause smaller programs to completely fold. Even the larger programs have spent so many years investing in better coaches, facilities, etc., that they also need a salvaged season of some sort not to fall into the hole. Even if there are no fans in the stands, the TV contracts are where the money's at."
"If there's no football, I'll end up watching older game replays to get my fix," Tim says. "I'll venture outside once in a while, maybe even spend some time at the basketball court. More time to take day trips and knock some things off the honey-do list."
It's somewhat of a testament to where we're at in these uncharted waters that the guy who seems most confident in a season also provided the longest list of backup plans. Though I suppose anyone who proudly flies an NC State flag in front of his house is rather accustomed to hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
The moral of the story is that the idea of canceling the college football season—something that would have been unfathomable as little as two months ago—feels like an inevitability to a lot of fans at this point. And if there is any sort of season, I'm not even sure if the folks I spoke with would be more pleasantly surprised about getting to watch games or downright terrified about the threat of another COVID outbreak.
Now I pose the question to you, beloved reader: What will you be doing on Saturdays this fall?