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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: The Case Against a Spring Football Season

August 18, 2020

On Wednesday, the Council of Ivy League Presidents will share its plan for fall sports, including football. Coaches expect that plan to push the football season back to the spring.

The Ivy League certainly hasn’t been afraid to create precedent during the pandemic. Way back in March, the Ivy League was the first to cancel its conference tournament. Many thought it was an overreaction at first, but as we learned more about the novel coronavirus every other conference followed suit.

Could the Ivy League be setting a precedent again here? What would a full spring season even look like for the Power Five?

In a normal year at Nebraska, spring football consists of 15 practices spread out across six weeks (with spring break somewhere in the middle). How far back into the spring would the season be pushed, and how long would it last? Will it be conference play only? Will there be a postseason of any kind? I’d have a hard time justifying putting student-athletes through anything approaching a second full season in one calendar year

Say the Power Five leagues do move to the spring; what will the rosters look like? We know the NFL intends to move forward with its season if at all possible and the 2021 NFL Draft is slated to take place at the end of April. What impact would a delayed college season have on the draft? Would the NFL go ahead with its own schedule, drafting based on tape from previous years? Would players be able to declare for the draft yet continue playing if the season extends into May or beyond? Could we see someone like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence sit out the season entirely, secure in his existing tape, physical tools and reputation? We’ve been seeing more and more players sit out bowl games over the last couple of years.

Alabama has a whole host of likely first-round picks. Schools like Ohio State, Georgia and others in addition to Clemson are projected to have multiple first-round picks. If the elite prospects choose not to participate in a spring season, the college football we get would look dramatically different than what we were expecting to see this fall. Heck, in this scenario it’s possible that an entire draft class of players would sit out the season

And what would a spring season mean for early enrollees? Would those players be eligible to compete? If so, would they have to burn their redshirt in order to avoid losing a season of eligibility?

The idea for spring football is based on the premise that things will be better come the spring. It’s definitely true that pushing the start of the season back five months or so will give scientists and medical professionals more time to learn about COVID-19, develop better treatments and potentially even develop a vaccine. Preventing the health care system from being overrun was only part of the logic behind “flattening the curve;” the truth is we know so little about COVID-19 and its longterm affects that medical professionals needed more time to study it.

However, even if we do get a vaccine in record time, would that vaccine be spread wide enough to make interacting with others dramatically safer in time for a spring football season? I find that unlikely. How much different will things truly be by the time a season would have to start in order to make spring football feasible?

I understand how much trouble a lot of schools will be in without a college football season, whether that includes fans in the stands or not. I’m not familiar with the details of TV contracts or how much football schools would have to produce in order to get their money from those deals. That being said, how much of a dent in the financial problems caused by the pandemic would a spring football season make? What’s the difference between playing in the spring (again, I’m not sure how many games that would even include) and just waiting until fall of 2021 for a (hopefully) full college football season?

There are so many hoops programs would have to jump through to make spring football happen on a large scale and I’m just really struggling to see how spring football would be worth it for schools. If universities and student-athletes decide playing football in the fall just isn’t worth the risk, I don’t see how they can justify playing during the spring instead. Either come up with a plan to hold the season with whatever precautions are necessary and accept the risks or shut everything down until things are as close to normal as possible.

I’m certainly no epidemiologist, and it’s entirely possible I’m missing something here and a few more months will be all we need to return to normal life, but a plan for pushing football off to the spring just seems like wishful thinking to me. I doubt we see major conferences go that route, but I suppose desperation can force people into making very difficult decisions.

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