If there is no college football this fall, it will be a nightmare. The ACC, Big 12, SEC and a few Group of Five leagues are still planning on starting the 2020 season in September, but the never-improving COVID-19 data makes it hard to believe it can happen. And if the season gets canceled, the financial ramifications would be catastrophic for a lot of programs. Both USA Today and ESPN have postulated that we're talking about a $4 billion decision here, or around $78 million per Power Five school.
But if there is football this fall, there's a smaller but still very significant nightmare to consider:
What happens to Big Ten and Pac-12 rosters?
Those two Power Five conferences already announced they are postponing football until the spring because of the coronavirus and its potential to cause myocarditis—which has been known to lead to sudden heart failure in athletes.
It's irrelevant whether you or I believe it was the right decision at the right time based on the amount of information they had. What's done is done—unless Justin Fields' petition to immediately reinstate the season actually works, which is highly unlikely at best.
And now that we've had some time to mourn the decision, its ripple effects are beginning to come into focus.
First of all, it's ludicrous that the Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents and commissioners are effectively saying that while they feel it's unsafe to play this fall, the idea of having amateurs play 20-25 football games in the span of 10 months is A-OK. We don't know the potential long-term effects of COVID-19, but no rational person could seriously believe it's safe to play that many games of football in less than a year.
So, if there is pigskin in the spring, players with multiple years of eligibility remaining would need to carefully consider the toll that many games could have on their bodies. Perhaps a lot of them would be willing to risk it, but there's bound to be a sizable percentage of players who would opt out of a bastardized season presumably devoid of both bowl games and a national championship.
Players with 2021 NFL draft potential would almost certainly opt out, as well. And we aren't just talking about potential top-five picks like Ohio State's Justin Fields, Penn State's Micah Parsons and Oregon's Penei Sewell. Even players with sixth-round grades would almost have to abstain from playing, since a spring season would overlap with the draft combine and possibly even the draft itself.
The risk of injury—and skipping the exposure of the combine and pro days—is just too great, especially that close to the draft.
Between the Big Ten and Pac-12, there were 80 players selected in the 2020 NFL draft. And let's just say last year's on-field product would not have been as palatable without those 80 players.
But at least the schools don't need to worry about what to do with those players for 2021 and beyond.
For those who aren't 2021 draft-bound, it gets messy.
Would the guys who play in the spring be burning a year of eligibility to do so?
If yes, the rate of players opting out would increase drastically and the product would get even worse, as starters within every program come to the near-unanimous realization that the spring season isn't worth losing a later season.
If no, do the schools get to increase scholarships from 85 to 100 in order to account for both the 2021 recruits and the seniors who are no longer exhausting their final year? And then what's the process for getting back down to 85 within a few years, since, you know, money is the only excuse for trying to play in the spring and scholarships cost the schools money?
Would that decision only apply to schools playing in the spring, or would ACC/B12/SEC players also potentially get to play 10-13 games this fall and still preserve a year of eligibility? Frankly, I'm not sure which side of that fence I would be on, and the decision would be hotly contested either way.
Nicole Auerbach 😷 @NicoleAuerbach
ICYMI from @max_olson: Shane Lyons, the chair of the D-I football oversight committee, plans to push to guarantee eligibility for all fall sport athletes, regardless of whether they participate in any fall or spring competition this academic year: https://t.co/euznOHepaE
Regardless of the answers to those questions, it's a safe assumption that the transfer portal is going to be more crowded than ever with all these unforeseeable changes. So the NCAA better start working on either approving—or coming up with a good excuse for denying—the proposal for a one-time transfer waiver it put on hold in May.
Also, uh, recruiting?
Because of COVID-19, the nation-wide dead period for recruiting has been in effect since mid-March and was recently extended until (at least) September 30. It has already been more than five months since coaches were last allowed to visit recruits or host them for campus visits. So getting to actually watch teams play—either just on television or potentially in person beginning in early October—figures to play a huge part in the decision-making process for high school seniors.
With neither the Big Ten nor Pac-12 playing in the fall, will recruits lean (or flip) in the direction of teams from the other Power Five leagues in advance of the December 16 early signing day? And for recruits with designs of enrolling early and potentially playing in fall 2021, wouldn't it make sense to pick an ACC/B12/SEC school on a normal offseason schedule rather than a Big Ten or Pac-12 team that isn't going to have spring camp since it'll be busy having its spring season instead?
Long story short, if three Power Five leagues play in the fall and the other two play in the spring, those other two have a lot of questions to answer and a steep uphill climb ahead of them. I'm in no way suggesting the Big Ten and Pac-12 teams should be "rooting for the virus," but it's hard to imagine they'll swiftly bounce back from a fall season spent on the sidelines.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.