Split college season could work, shortened season would hurt Clemson most
|Monday, July 6, 2020, 8:01 AM- -|
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster recently warned that the college football season is in jeopardy if COVID-19 numbers continue increasing in the state of South Carolina.
“If these numbers continue to rise and the danger persists. I can’t do it. I won’t do it," McMaster said.
Numbers across the nation had dramatically fallen for eight consecutive weeks as testing ramped up and the percentage of positive tests had dropped from over 25% to below 5% among the most vulnerable age group (65+ yrs) [Commercial Labs Data Only]. As social distancing rather abruptly ended in late May and mask usage waned, the percentage of positive tests has started to rise. South Carolina, which had previously avoided high numbers, has seen positive cases rise from under 250 new cases per day in late-May to over 600 in mid-June [SCDHEC].
There’s still a long way between now and September, however, and school officials nationally are making it clear that numbers must start trending in the right direction soon if they’re to allow college football to return. Not having a 2020 college football season would be devastating to fans, but more importantly it would wreak havoc on those who live and work in college towns dependent on the tourist dollars that college football generates. The President of Clemson’s Chamber of Commerce Susan Cohen said the town would be “dead in the water” without football season.
While I remain optimistic that we will see football in the fall, there is a chance it won’t start on time. It certainly won’t for at least one small school that already canceled an early-season game. The implications to even just a four-week delay to the college football season are huge. Moving the schedule forward four weeks would put the final week of the regular season on December 26th. Obviously, that conflict with Christmas break doesn’t work.
A shortened regular season has big problems too. College towns hurt by losing tourism dollars without a season are likewise harmed if schools lose 2-3 home games to accommodate a shorter schedule. Clemson, which already ranks second to last among Power 5 teams in SBD’s projected strength of schedule rankings, could see their path back to the playoff harmed as well. A season with only 7-9 games would likely include all six games against Atlantic Division opponents.
Non-conference matchups against the Citadel and Akron might be first to go, but Coastal division matchups against rival Georgia Tech and Virginia could be lost too. The Palmetto Bowl would certainly be prioritized but would be no guarantee. Most importantly, Clemson’s marquee matchup – a trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame – could go out the window. That could spell College Football Playoff trouble.
Last year, the defending National Champion Tigers, were 13-0. That followed a perfect 15-0 season. Despite that, they were jumped in the playoff seeding by LSU and Ohio State, who had simply played and beat better teams. In a shortened season scenario, the odds of having four or even five undefeated teams isn’t nearly as small as in a full season. If Oregon and Ohio State cancel their September non-conference game could they both go undefeated? Absolutely! How about Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and a team from the SEC? It could happen. With Clemson’s ACC brethren not holding up their end of the bargain, the Tigers may not have enough meat on the schedule – especially without Notre Dame – to control their own destiny. That’s a terrible position to be in.
An imperfect but better alternative may be a split season. Moving the entire season to the spring semester seems like a non-starter. The NFL appears unwilling to delay their draft for departing student-athletes and the rest and recovery time between college seasons would be too short for the ones returning. Perhaps part of the season could be played in the spring though.
Again, imagine the scenario where the season is delayed by four weeks. A full season could still be played by playing six games in the fall and six in the spring. All games are shifted back four weeks and the first half of the schedule is played in the fall. Players go home for Thanksgiving with six games in the books. They don’t return to the field until after Christmas as many schools move to virtual learning between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Surely, some will declare early for the NFL draft at that point, but most would then return for games that run from January 9th through February 13th. An abbreviated bowl season would allow the season to be completed by early March. This would leave plenty of time before the NFL draft at the end of April and the next season in September.
There would be challenges with players leaving after the first half of the season, especially on teams out of contention. There would be weather issues too. This is far from ideal, but if the season is delayed by more than three weeks, this may be the best option. For now, let’s practice caution, hold onto hope, and anticipate seeing the Tigers in the fall for a full season. There’s still time and reason for optimism, but if things take a turn for the worst, let’s hope for a split season rather than a shortened one.