How did we get here? A timeline of the wild, unprecedented past 5 months of college football
Quarantine began in 2013. At least that’s what it feels like.
On some days (especially recently), it seems like we’re getting breaking news by the minute. On other days, it feels like the news is moving at a snail’s pace.
Nobody would fault you for forgetting a few things here and there over the past 5 months. Hey, for all I know, you spent this whole time backpacking through Europe and now you’re just getting caught up on all of your college football news. If that’s you, grab a seat. I hate to break it you, but this season is going to look different than any you’ve ever seen.
So how did we get to this point? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a timeline of the wildest 5 months in college sports history.
March 11-12 — Conference basketball tournaments, NCAA Tournaments canceled because of COVID-19
A dark 2 days it was. Coronavirus arrived in the sports world the previous night when the NBA shut down following a positive test from Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. We went from thinking empty stadiums during conference tournaments were the solution to full-on cancelations.
ALERT: Based on the latest developments and the continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Southeastern Conference today announced the cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) March 12, 2020
It wasn’t just the NCAA Tournaments that were canceled. The NCAA canceled all spring sports championships. No baseball, no hockey, no lacrosse. In all, 19 championships were canceled.
Little did we know at the time what awaited.
March 17 — SEC cancels spring football and pro days
With spring practices on hold after the March 13 announcement, the SEC decided to punt on spring football games and pro days (as did other conferences throughout this week). In the grand scheme of things, that might not seem like the biggest deal, but think about being an early-enrollee. Think about being a sophomore in hopes of emerging as a starter. That was a tough pill to swallow.
And on the pro day side, picture being someone who had trained for months for the biggest job interview of your life. What if you didn’t get the NFL Combine invite? Not having that pro day, while understandable given our lack of adequate protocols at the time, was crushing. Lives were changed by not getting that opportunity.
An inevitable move, but it served as another kick to the gut after a historic week in college athletics.
April 3 — Dabo Swinney says he has “zero doubt” that college football will start on time with full stadiums
The Clemson coach said in an ESPN story that despite the cancelations for COVID-19, he believed the season would continue as scheduled without any major shakeups:
Asked his preference for how the sport might adjust to potential scheduling issues due to the pandemic, Swinney said his only focus is on players reporting to camp on time in August.
“My preference is let’s get to work and go play,” Swinney said. “That’s the best-case scenario, and I think that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t have any doubt. I have zero doubt that we’re going to be playing and the stands are going to be packed.”
Swinney said he created a T.I.G.E.R.S. acronym for players and coaches that stands for “This Is Gonna End Real Soon.”
Catchy? Sure. Prophetic? Unfortunately, no.
April 15 — College football leaders tell Vice President Mike Pence “no students on campus, no games”
Perhaps the first major hiccup in college football’s fall plans came via a call with Washington. During a call with the College Football Playoff Management Committee, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said something to the vice president that made the rounds in college football circles.
“Our players are students. If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests,” said Bowlsby, who was on the call (via CBS Sports).
“Our message was, we need to get universities and colleges back open, that we were education-based programs, and we weren’t going to have sports until we had something closer to normal college going on,” he added.
As for the “how are college sports different than the pro sports” discussion as it relates to playing in a pandemic, that proved to be a major point of reference.
May 20 — NCAA officially punts on 1-time transfer exemption rule; NCAA allows for voluntary workouts to begin June 1
What once looked like a groundbreaking change in college athletics was put on the back burner. Instead of allowing undergraduate players a 1-time exemption to transfer and receive immediate eligibility, the NCAA elected to table that until the 2021-22 school year.
Why? COVID-19 certainly appeared to play a part. With concern that some Power 5 leagues could play while others held off on a season, the logic was to avoid a Power 5 team’s roster getting gutted via the transfer portal. With state governments and university presidents making decisions independent of one another, it gave the NCAA an easy out to stall the move.
You know, not that the NCAA ever needs much of an excuse to drag its feet.
It was a busy news day for the NCAA is it allowed for voluntary workouts for football, as well as men’s and women’s basketball, to begin June 1. The first real sign of a return to sports was a major development, even though there were still plenty of issues to figure out in terms of testing, quarantines, eligibility issues, etc.
June 4 — Marvin Wilson catches Mike Norvell in a lie
In the wake of the national protests that ensued as a result of the death of George Floyd, the new Florida State coach told The Athletic in a statement that he had 1-on-1 conversations with all of the Seminoles on issues of racial injustice.
Wilson, a senior captain and likely early-round draft pick in 2021, wasn’t having any of it:
Man this 💩 did not happen mane. We got a generated text that was sent to everybody. There was no one on one talk between us and coach. This is a lie and me and my teammates as a whole are outraged and we will not be working out until further notice 💯 #hunchoout https://t.co/6Uuy6K7Eu3
— HEAD HUNCHO💧 (@marvinwilson21) June 4, 2020
A team meeting the next morning led to a peace offering. Norvell released a statement admitting that he lied about what he told The Athletic. Wilson released a video saying that they came to an understanding, but it was certainly an enlightening moment in the summer of player protests.
June 5 — Former Iowa players allege racism from strength coach Chris Doyle
Why was this significant for all college football fans? Doyle was the highest-paid strength coach in the country. Dozens of former Iowa players took to social media to speak out against the culture that Doyle promoted. Former Iowa and current Chicago Bears offensive lineman James Daniels sparked the outpouring on social media by saying “there are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.”
Doyle, who had been at Iowa since Kirk Ferentz arrived 21 years ago, was put on administrative leave and eventually fired following an internal investigation into the claims made against him.
Ferentz lifted a players ban on Twitter, a team leadership group expanded to include a majority of Black players, a 10-player advisory group of former players was established and Ferentz spoke repeatedly about his remorse for failing to act on issues of alleged racial injustice within the program in 2018.
Needless to say, it’s been an offseason of change for FBS’ longest-tenured coach.
June 15 — Chuba Hubbard threatens hold out after picture of Mike Gundy wearing OAN shirt surfaces
The nation’s top returning rusher tweeted that he would not play for Oklahoma State until things changed following a viral picture of Gundy wearing a shirt from One America News, which is a far-right news organization that called the Black Lives Matter movement “a farce.”
I will not stand for this.. This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it’s unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE. https://t.co/psxPn4Khoq
— Chuba Hubbard (@Hubbard_RMN) June 15, 2020
After Hubbard and Gundy released a joint video together promoting change, the Oklahoma State coach released a video the following day in which he said he was “disgusted” with OAN’s view on the Black Lives Matter movement.
June 22 — Kylin Hill refuses to play until Mississippi’s state flag is changed
Mississippi State’s All-SEC running back tweeted that he wouldn’t play until the Mississippi state flag, which featured a confederate logo, was changed:
Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this State anymore 💯 & I meant that .. I’m tired https://t.co/IzizpWLoIg
— Kylin Hill (@H_Kylin) June 22, 2020
A week later, MSU coach Mike Leach, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and other coaches lobbied at the state capitol to get the flag changed. It worked. Lawmakers voted to change the flag so that it would no longer feature a confederate logo. A state flag that had been in place since 1894 changed a week after following Hill’s public stance.
A month later, Hill was rewarded a key to the city in his hometown of Columbus, Mississippi.
Kylin Hill was presented the key to the city in his hometown of Columbus, Mississippi, tonight.
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) July 22, 2020
June 19 — Clemson has 21 football players test positive for COVID-19
The Athletic reported that 21 football players and 2 staff members tested positive for the virus during the team’s voluntary workouts. That came a week after Clemson announced just 2 positive cases on the football team.
No players required hospitalizations, according to the report. This came a week after Houston announced it was shutting down its workouts following 6 positive tests, and a day after Texas announced 13 positive tests.
At the time, however, Clemson had the most positive tests of any football program in the country.
June 20 — LSU quarantines 30 players due to COVID outbreak, Kansas State shuts down after 14 positive tests
A day following the Clemson news, Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reported that LSU quarantined 30 players after they tested positive or were in close contact of someone who tested positive. There was an outbreak traced back to the off-campus Baton Rouge nightclubs, which forced quarantines for several of LSU’s players.
This came on the same day that Kansas State shut down its voluntary workouts after 14 football players tested positive. Needless to say, it was a “are we sure we can actually do this?” sort of weekend in college football.
July 8 — Ivy League cancels fall sports
Just like in March when the Ivy League was the first to cancel its conference basketball tournament, it was the first college conference to cancel a football season. The Ivy League postponed all fall sports without any expected start date.
Sources: Ivy League programs have been informed that fall sports have been cancelled.
The conference will not entertain any sports being played until after January 1st.
Winter sports will have an update in mid-July on their respective practice schedules.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 8, 2020
While the elements surrounding the Ivy League were certainly different than that of any FBS conference, it was still the first major cancelation of anything related to fall sports.
July 8 — Ohio State pauses workouts after round of COVID testing
The Buckeyes put a 5-day pause on voluntary workouts after a round of COVID testing:
Ohio State says it has “paused all voluntary workouts on campus following the results of its most recent COVID-19 testing of student-athletes.” Seven teams’ workouts are affected: men’s and women’s basketball, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball.
— Steve Berkowitz (@ByBerkowitz) July 8, 2020
Multiple reports indicated that the football program had single-digit confirmed positive tests, and that it was seen as more of a cautionary measure than reacting to some sort of outbreak.
Still, it was another day, another reminder that even college football’s elite adjusted their 2020 plans.
July 9 — Big Ten goes rogue, announces revised 10-game conference-only football schedule
Remember when the Big Ten didn’t tell any other Power 5 commissioners that it planned on going rogue and announced a 10-game conference-only schedule? It seems like a lifetime ago. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren raised some eyebrows because of questions about why the move was made, and why it was made so early.
The move allowed the conference to have flexibility in the event of canceled matchups. It also allowed the league to make sure all teams had to adhere to the same testing protocols. It wasn’t about geography.
Based on comments from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, the timing of the move caught many by surprise.
July 30 — SEC announces revised conference-only football schedule
It took approximately 3 weeks for the SEC to do exactly what the Big Ten did. That is, go to a 10-game, conference-only schedule. However, unlike the Big Ten, the league announced that it wouldn’t start until Sept. 26 and that the conference title game would be delayed until Dec. 19.
It squashed the question that surfaced after the ACC announced its schedule the previous day, which featured 10 conference games and 1 potential nonconference game. The caveat was that it had to be played against an intrastate team. The SEC presidents voted against preserving the 4 annual ACC-SEC rivalries. That made the all-SEC season official.
Go figure that in a year of everything getting canceled, more SEC football was added to 2020.
July 30 — Pac-12 players threaten to sit out 2020 season unless list of demands met
Hundreds of Pac-12 players got behind the #WeAreUnited movement, which outlined several demands in order to have a 2020 season. The Players’ Tribune statement detailed that Pac-12 players sought a 50-50 revenue split with the conference, retained eligibility for COVID opt-outs, end performance/academic-based bonuses, a civic-engagement task force, medical insurance for 6 years post-eligibility and much more. Even superstars like Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell publicly supported it.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott later reportedly called it “a misguided PR stunt.”
Still, it put the foundation in place for a different sort of players-led movement less than 2 weeks later.
August 5 — Big Ten unveils conference-only schedule
The league announced its schedule at 8:30 a.m. ET on a Wednesday. It did so with a 2.5-hour televised event on Big Ten Network.
Things changed, um, quickly.
August 6 — ACC releases revamped 2020 schedule
No divisions. Notre Dame. Ten conference games. One nonconference, Group of 5/FCS game. Totally revamped schedule. Simple enough?
The ACC announced it would start the season Thursday, Sept. 10. and it would host the conference championship on Dec. 12 or Dec. 19 depending on potential makeup games.
August 7 — SEC announces testing protocols, releases 2 additional matchups per team
The SEC’s big Friday news dump was preceded by an announcement that it would require schools to test 6 and 3 days before a game, and the league recommended a third weekly test for a high-contact sport like football.
But that was easily buried under the SEC’s strange release of the additional matchups. On a Friday at 6 p.m. ET, the league announced the added matchups on SEC Network. Arkansas and Mizzou fans were enraged to find they added daunting matchups against SEC contenders while others cried foul that Alabama didn’t add a matchup with Florida, and LSU dodged Georgia.
Regardless of that misplaced anger, it just felt good to get mad about the schedules. Why?
Well, the following weekend …
August 9-10 — #WeWantToPlay movement goes viral in wake of reported cancelation momentum
Late on Sunday night after a weekend of reports of doubt by Power 5 decision-makers about the 2020 season — which included the MAC canceling its season — college football’s elite stepped up. The 6-point #WeWantToPlay statement was shared by the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Najee Harris, Chuba Hubbard and others following a 45-minute Zoom call.
— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 10, 2020
An unprecedented movement got college football players on the same page. There was no threat to sit out the season or demand for compensation. The plan was clear and concise. While it didn’t necessarily change the minds of decision-makers across the board, the player statement was as unified as we’ve seen in the sport.
Will it lead to a union? Who knows. But at a time when players were opting out of the fall season, future millionaires got on the same page and made a push to try and make a last-minute effort to deal with the liability issue.
The #WeWantToPlay movement could serve as the future blueprint for major change in college sports.
August 11 — Big Ten, Pac-12 cancel fall seasons; Big 12, ACC and SEC hold tight
What a monumental day in college sports. Just a few days after the Big Ten released its schedule, it finally announced it was canceling the season. I say “finally” because on Aug. 10, multiple outlets reported that the conference presidents voted 12-2 to cancel the fall season and to try to play in the spring … until a Big Ten spokesperson said a couple of hours later that it didn’t happen.
A day later, however, an additional vote led to the Big Ten’s announcement, which was soon followed by the Pac-12. Big Ten coaches like Scott Frost, Ryan Day and Jim Harbaugh all shared public comments criticizing the move. Nebraska and Ohio State expressed a desire to seek other options for playing fall football, but then later backed off their stance after Warren said they’d be kicked out of the league (and not get that $50 million annual revenue check).
The SEC and ACC, meanwhile, publicly stated that they planned on playing in 2020 as long as their medical experts supported a season.
That night, the Big 12 announced after a meeting with its university presidents that it was moving forward with the season. It was seen as a major victory for the ACC and SEC, who would’ve been outnumbered by the rest of the Power 5 had the Big 12 followed suit. But that didn’t happen.
As of Aug. 14, the plan is for football in 2020.