For fans hoping and dreaming for a college football season to start on schedule and without a hitch, the last 48 hours have been one downward spiral after another.
It started with the Ivy League deciding to shut down its fall sports schedule on Wednesday. High profile programs like Ohio State and UNC decided to temporarily shut down voluntary workouts after spikes in COVID-19 cases within their programs. Stanford announced the death of 11 varsity programs within its athletic department, joining 20 other universities that have ended at least one sport.
Then on Thursday, a season-altering decision was made by the Big Ten, becoming the first Power 5 conference to shift to an all-conference schedule in 2020. The news was first reported by The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach.
"The Big Ten Conference announced today that if the conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to conference-only schedules in those sports," the conference released in a statement.
Ohio State-Oregon, Michigan-Washington, Penn State-Virginia Tech, Iowa-Iowa State, Miami-Michigan State and Wisconsin-Notre Dame are just a few of the high profile non-conference games affected by the altered schedule. The conference will play 10 conference games as part of the schedule change according to multiple reports.
Not an hour later, Auerbach reported that the Pac-12 is expected to follow in the Big Ten's footsteps and go with an all-conference schedule in 2020 as well. Later in the day, Stadium reporter Brett McMurphy reported that the ACC would move to an all-conference schedule this season but Auerbach said any reports on the ACC side were "premature."
The decision by the Big Ten and Pac-12 is just one of the "contingency plans" that Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger and Pat Forde reported on Wednesday. Those plans include delaying the season further into the fall, playing a conference-only schedule or delaying the season to the spring.
Conference decision-makers and athletic directors are becoming increasingly weary of a season being able to start on time. Shane Lyons, West Virginia's athletic director and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee is one of the many who’s concerned.
"Until two weeks ago, everybody felt pretty good about starting on time on Sept. 5 and Aug. 29," Lyons told Dellenger and Forde. "The last two weeks have really put a wet blanket on that, and we’re saying, ‘Maybe that’s not going to happen.’”
The question for the two other Power 5 conferences—the SEC and Big-12—is do they follow suit with what the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC are planning? Dellenger reported on Thursday afternoon that the SEC held its weekly coaches meeting and that there is currently no change in practice or schedule plans at this time.
"The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement to Sports Illustrated. "We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions."
Dellenger and Forde also reported on Thursday evening that the SEC will have an in-person meeting with its 14 conference athletic directors on Monday. The meeting has been planned for two weeks and was not scheduled in response to the Big Ten announcing its decision to move its 2020 season to an all-conference schedule.
The meeting will be a way for Sankey to get feedback from each AD as to what the future of SEC football will look like in 2020, though Dellenger and Forde report that no significant decisions are expected to be made as a result of the meeting.
“I think spring is more viable than fall,” one SEC AD told SI this week. “What we have currently scheduled is not realistic. If somebody told me we could play conference-only in the fall, that would be great. But I’m not sure we can play one game, let alone a full conference schedule.”
If the SEC does ultimately decide to follow suit with the other conferences and switch to an all-conference schedule, it will affect the following non-conference games for LSU.
- UTSA vs. LSU (Sep. 5)
- Texas vs. LSU (Sep. 12)
- LSU vs. Rice @ NRG (Sep. 19)
- Nicholls State vs. LSU (Oct. 3)
Sankey's comments lend to lean toward the conference taking its time in making a decision over the next few weeks, just like the initial plan always was. Various reports said that other conference leaders were thrown off by the timing of the Big Ten announcing its plan to move forward with an all-conference schedule, with most expecting it to be announced next week.
The future of the college football season could very well be decided in the next few weeks as Wednesday and Thursday's gauntlet of news has only left many more on edge. The first week of August, the date that preseason camp begins, will be the latest possible time to make a decision to postpone the season.
"I'm really concerned," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said when asked about his optimism that football will happen in the fall. "When you look at the behavior of our country and in may we were on a downward trajectory.Now, if we are not the worst in the world, we're one of the worst in the world."