GREEN BAY, Wis. – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn the sporting world upside-down.
Five months after wiping out the NCAA basketball tournaments, college football appears poised to be the next sport felled by the virus’ unceasing march. The Mid-American Conference was the first domino to fall; the Big Ten reportedly will be the next. Others are expected to follow.
“It’s gotten to a critical stage,” one conference commissioner told Sports Illustrated on Sunday, after a conference call between the heads of the Power 5 conferences. “I think all of us will be meeting with our boards in the coming days. We have work to do that is no fun.”
It’s possible the college football season will be pushed into spring. That would mean major changes for how Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst and his fellow general managers will handle the 2021 NFL Draft.
– Presumably, because of the extreme physical challenge of playing a spring college season followed by a fall professional season, many draft prospects – not just first-round picks but even mid- to late-rounders – will weigh the risk vs. reward and decide not to play. Take, for instance, Simon Stepaniak. A sixth-round pick by the Packers, Stepaniak tore his ACL during bowl prep in December. The timing of the injury already will cost him at least the start of training camp. A torn ACL in the spring would almost certainly mean a player would spend his entire rookie NFL season on injured reserve.
– If draft prospects don’t play, scouts would have to rely on tape from the 2019 season.
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– But because new data is better than old data, a scout said teams would rely more on Scouting Combine and pro-day workouts than usual.
– Individual schools have their own rules pertaining to scouts. If campus is closed to scouts, the intel-gathering phase of the draft process would be restricted.
– Depending on how late the college season runs, the draft – scheduled from April 29 through May 1 – might have to get pushed back. That, in turn, could impact the dates of rookie camps and offseason practices.
“Certainly, we’ve had some contingency plans and talked through some things just how we’re going to approach everything if that were the case,” Gutekunst said on Monday.
“Really disappointed for those kids’ ability to play the game. That’s a tough thing because some of these guys may never ever get a chance to play football again. It’s a little different than some other sports. There’s no pick-up games in football. As far as our scouting staff goes, I think we’re prepared on a number of different fronts to attack this. But I think we have to be very flexible, too, because things will change and we’re going to prepare. There’s going to be a draft, we’re going to have to acquire players, so we’re just going to have to do it a few different ways.”
Gutekunst said his scouts are “itching” to get on the road. By now, one scout said he would have visited “five or six schools” in his area. Instead, he’s watching old film and interviewing people via Zoom.
“Obviously,” Gutekunst said, “if certain conferences and levels don’t play, we’re going to have to do a lot of our evaluations off the tape from 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we got down to that December area where you might see different kind of combines or workouts we’ll be able to attend. The work those guys are going to have to do from an evaluation aspect, and also the background information and all the character information we rely on those guys so much for, all that is still going to be required. They’re going to have their work cut out for them. They’re just going to have to do it in some different ways. But it’s all still going to have to be done before we get to the time next year when the draft is.”