Playing college football in the spring might be an option, but it's a really bad idea
Everything is on the table. At at time when athletic directors, conference commissioners and the NCAA are working tirelessly to ensure that college football is played during the 2020-21 academic year, any ideas have to be considered.
That includes the really bad ones.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already put all sports on hold, forcing the NCAA to make the difficult decision to cancel March Madness, other winter championships and spring seasons across college athletics. With so much uncertainty surrounding this public health crisis, there’s certainly a threat to college football in 2020. Already, it’s spurred conversations about alternate options to play the season, should the situation impede the opening kickoff.
We’ve heard about delaying kickoff, canceling all non-conference contests, playing games without fans in attendance and moving the season to spring. The last suggestion, which might be a legitimate option for the decision-makers to chew on, is an incredibly bad idea.
I think we can all agree that some version of college football would be better than no season at all. Attempting to fit an entire schedule into the spring months — or even half the slate — would present a myriad of problems. If the idea is to continue with bowl games and a College Football Playoff, it becomes a nightmare.
Current athletic directors told Stadium that it wouldn’t be the preferred scenario, but that the option is on the table.
“If it’s our only option, we absolutely would have to do it in the spring,” a Group of Five AD told Stadium. “It would be incredibly difficult for us to survive financially without football revenue. That’s how critical it is to each university. We have to be creative in our thinking on this.”
Logistically, uprooting the entire college football season and planting it in the spring months would be a fairly difficult task. Venues for neutral-site games could potentially have other events taking place throughout the spring to generate revenue — concerts, motor sport events, large conventions, etc. Though games on college campuses likely wouldn’t have nearly as many conflicts, some FBS programs still share stadiums with NFL franchises.
USF plays home games at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Temple shares Lincoln Financial Field with the Philadelphia Eagles. How would those teams fit in home games if there were too many scheduling conflicts — especially when you consider that some of those alternate events would likely bring in more revenue than hosting a college football game.
Venues for conference championship games, bowl games and the College Football Playoff could theoretically encounter the same issues. Could it be done? Possibly, but getting everyone’s schedules to line up perfectly across the sport with less than a year in which to work would be an unbelievably difficult challenge.
There’s a reason why schools and conferences schedule these games so far in advance.
Speaking of logistics, there’d be some pretty significant conflicts with NFL events. The NFL Scouting Combine, pro days and draft all take place in February, March and April. If the college football season runs parallel with the NFL Draft process, there’s a good chance draft-eligible players will be forced to make a decision: play the season or start training for the professional level.
For players like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, the risk could outweigh the reward. A poor performance or an injury could see a player’s draft stock fall drastically with the draft so close to the season. Those are always the risks, but having a full year to recover from an injury, or participating in the combine and pro days to overcome some shortcomings during the season could be the difference in a first-round lock and a third- or fourth-round selection.
That’s a lot of money at stake. A lot of those draft-eligible players — particularly those with first- or second-round projections — would likely pass on suiting up for their final college season.
Scheduling conflicts and the NFL Draft process are both major concerns with holding a spring football season, but neither compare to the larger issue at play: player safety.
On the front end of this proposal, there really aren’t many concerns. Teams could potentially use the fall period as a substitute for spring practice and jump into a winter camp 60 days before the start of the season — providing a substantial timeframe for players to hit peak physical shape and eliminate a high risk of injury.
Where the issues come into play, however, is with the small window between the end of the spring season and the start of the 2021 campaign, assuming it proceeds as scheduled in the fall. Essentially, it would be asking student-athletes to compete in 24-30 college football games in a 10-month span (assuming the spring season would start in late February).
The amount of time between the end of the spring football season — with a proposal that the College Football Playoff be scheduled for May — and the start of fall camp in late July or early August, would be minimal. Recovery time would be non-existent, putting players at a greater risk of injury.
Even a truncated season, playing eight or nine games, would take its toll on players.
And the additional wear-and-tear of playing that many games in under a calendar year would undoubtedly affect the product on the field. Quite simply, it might be the worst season of college football we’ve ever witnessed in the modern era.
With a safety-first approach to the game, playing a spring season contradicts everything the NCAA (is supposed to) stand for.
Yes, we all understand the importance of college football. We’ve had it ingrained in our brains that it’s the sport that funds all other college athletics and allows departments to operate on a yearly basis. If football isn’t played in 2020, there’s a good chance a lot of other sports will get the ax.
Financially, it’s important to figure out a way to play the college football season. Nobody is questioning that. Playing a full schedule in the spring — complete with bowl games and a College Football Playoff — doesn’t make much sense. It should be an absolute last-resort option.
Even then, it doesn’t make much sense.