With the Fourth of July in the rear-view mirror, now is the time when the anticipation for college football would normally begin to build.
As we are all too aware, there’s nothing normal about this year. Uncertainty has replaced anticipation on almost all fronts because of the coronavirus, and its deadly threat lingers over every decision being made about the return of college athletics like nothing else in our lifetimes.
In the spring, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stated that a decision about the resumption of college football wouldn’t be made until it needed to be made. The message was that time was on our side.
Since then the months of May and June have melted away, and with Sept. 5 — the date when most college teams are scheduled to kick off the season — just 59 days away, time is no longer on the side of those who love college football and the entities that desperately need it.
Just 60 days shy of kickoff, the virus continues to rage with most states seeing a surge of infections that we really couldn’t imagine back in late April and early May.
Sure the virus hit New York, New Jersey, Washington and some of the nation’s larger cities really hard in March, but early in May, things seemed to be settling down to a degree.
I naively thought — hoped might be a better word — most of the South would be spared the worst of it because of the lower population density, but as we now know, that’s not the case. The lower population density just delayed the virus from arriving on our doorstep in full.
Now, when SEC fans should have media days on their radar, the event, which had been the mid-summer signal that college football was right around the corner, has been postponed. It was originally planned for next week, but why have the event — even virtually — until there is a better handle on what the season will look like?
Plus, there just isn’t a lot for coaches to say. Without spring football, they haven’t seen their players practice or workout sine last season, if they are following NCAA regulations.
If there is any way possible, there will be a college football season. There is too much money at stake for major and minor programs for them not to try.
A year without the revenue generated by college football would leave even the most well-heeled programs suffering, and it might be the death knell for others. That’s not an exaggeration.
As much as the Power Conferences need to play to keep that sweet, sweet TV-contract lucre flowing into its coffers, the programs that struggle or just get by need the season all they more because there is no foundation or reserve fund to tote the note not only for football but also for all the other athletic programs.
As desperately as Arkansas would like to head to South Bend, Ind. to take its shot at a nationally ranked Notre Dame squad on its second playing date of the season, Arkansas State desperately needs to travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. for its game with Michigan on Sept. 19 not only for the opportunity to pull off an upset but more importantly for the check.
There are more programs in the nation that are financially closer to the budget situation Arkansas State faces than the ones like Arkansas’, but even for the Razorbacks and the rest of the SEC, sitting out this season really is not an option.
Even the biggest money makers in college football run their programs like not-for-profit businesses. The bulk of the revenue is burned to keep the machine greased and rolling.
The SEC and the other Power conferences will attempt to play this fall. How far they will get is anyone’s guess.
There’s a lot of talk in the media about a shortened season or postponing the season for a month or even several months to play in the spring.
Waiting a month or two or postponing the season until spring doesn’t make much sense. No. 1, postponing the season even for a couple of weeks moves the start of the football season closer to the start of the flu season, which every doctor or scientist will tell you is the most-certain issue on the horizon in dealing with coronavirus. We know the coronavirus isn’t going to vanish, and we know the flu season will come, too, making it all the more difficult for doctors to treat and diagnose.
If anything, college football should have ramped up earlier and started the season in August; however, that’s a hindsight argument. Back in April and May, we all hoped the virus would have calmed to a degree this summer rather than surged.
Pushing the season to the spring has been described off-the-record as a last resort situation for the SEC, and only creates a cluster of other issues that athletic administrators do not want to face in already difficult times.
My expectation is there will be some sort of announcement by the SEC in conjunction with the other Power 5 conferences and the NCAA late this month about how college football will attempt to proceed. I eagerly and anxiously await the details like everyone else.
In the meantime, per NCAA rules, the Razorbacks can begin team workouts — required weight training, conditioning, and film review on Monday for eight hours a week. Since June 9, the Razorbacks and other SEC programs have been going through voluntary workouts. There’s not a big distinction between the two, other than the workouts and film review sessions are no longer voluntary, as if they ever really were.
Starting July 24, a Friday, the Hogs can start non-padded, non-helmeted walkthrough practices with a football for six hours a week until actual practices begin on Aug. 7. Here is where Arkansas’ new coaching staff will finally be able to work extensively with their new players. Teams will also be allowed to meet for six hours and weight train for eight hours a week during this time period.
These sessions somewhat mitigate the loss of spring practice for many programs in terms of teaching. However, the loss of spring ball — the padded work and scrimmaging — is really irreplaceable at this point. That’s where new coaches begin to divide the true players from the work-out-warriors. This year that has to wait until August.
No doubt Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman and his staff are counting down the days until they can take a more active approach in molding their players into a team.
As for the format, details, and makeup of the coming season, we’ll all just have to wait for further announcements.