With Details of 2020 Season in Limbo, Could Potential Cancelled Games Impact CFP Race?

Parker Thune

Plenty of questions continue to swirl regarding the execution and logistics of the 2020 college football season, and at this point, there are few clear answers.

This week, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione fielded one such question: what happens if a CFP contender misses out on a game or two due to cancellation? 

Such an occurrence would put the playoff selection committee in squarely uncharted territory, and as a member of the committee, Castiglione acknowledged that there's no cut-and-dried solution.

"As far as the playoff selection committee, we have actually had a couple of cases to work through, seasons of certain teams that have been disrupted the past couple years," Castiglione said. "Maybe not as much as to the level of potential we’re talking about now. I mean, there’s still a great deal of unknown."

Oklahoma is among a plethora of schools that could be affected by pandemic-related game cancellations; Missouri State athletic director Kyle Moats stated back on May 15 that he wasn't budgeting to play the Sooners on Sept. 5. 

"On a couple of occasions, teams have lost games, in some cases games against notable opponents on their schedule, due to weather," Castiglione noted. "You can remember back the last couple of years, teams along the Eastern Seaboard, Florida all the way through North Carolina and maybe beyond had game interruptions. In a couple of cases they were able to reschedule the games, and in several cases they were not. And so instead of having a 12-game schedule, they had 11-game schedules... I’ve only been on the committee two years, but I do remember in passing that it’s happened previously."

Indeed, Florida, Miami, UCF and USF cancelled games in September 2017 due to Hurricane Irma. However, none of those four schools ended the season in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Should a team with a legitimate case for a playoff spot fall victim to a cancellation, it could wreak havoc upon the committee's calculus.

Step into the hypothetical for a moment: Notre Dame doesn't belong to a conference, and thus plays an exclusively nonconference slate every year. Say two of their opponents cancel scheduled matchups, leaving the Irish with a patchwork schedule of just 10 games. Then suppose Notre Dame dominates the competition en route to a 10-0 record. At that point, the committee would have to pit the Irish against other contenders who played a full 12 or 13 games.

How on earth could the committee compare teams' resumes when such a significant discrepancy in sample size exists? How would a 10-0 team compare to, say, an 11-2 team or a 12-1 team?

Castiglione was unwilling to offer his conjecture.

"Losing one game [to cancellation] is one thing; losing multiple games may be an entirely different matter," Castiglione said. "And we will have meetings prior to the season and determine how those factors would be considered. I don’t pretend to know, and it’s not really our role right now to predict anything like that."

The CFP committee's rhetoric has raised eyebrows in the past, and it would certainly fall under much added scrutiny if such a situation were to materialize. Nevertheless, Castiglione reiterated that there will be a communal effort to solve any such problems that COVID-19 presents.

"Those are matters that are also taken up by the commissioners, because they put the protocols in place, and it’s approved by the presidents," he said. "We talk about them at the beginning of every meeting we have throughout the course of the selection process. And I’m sure if there are any changes or complications, that they would be announced prior to the season starting."

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