LSU-Florida's postponement shows exactly why the Playoff discussion is about to get all sorts of messy
And now it’s officially messy.
That should have been your reaction if you thought about the football-related impact of Saturday’s LSU-Florida game getting postponed. Messy for these teams, messy for the SEC and messy for the Playoff.
That’s right. Unfortunately, this should all serve as a warning of how many moving pieces are in place for the next 2 months.
Regardless of how anyone feels about the pandemic’s impact, we can all acknowledge that the protocols in place with the SEC are going to have an impact on the Playoff.
That isn’t necessarily different from what many predicted this offseason. That was back when Power 5 conferences were postponing entire seasons. Surely a messy Playoff picture that resulted in us arguing about 8-game schedules vs. 10-game schedules was a small price to play in the event that we got a season.
Now, though, it’s real.
What’s the problem, you ask? Won’t this just be as easy as LSU and Florida making up the game on Dec. 12 a week before the Playoff field is announced? Isn’t that why the built-in bye week was put in?
Yes, that’s true. What’s also true is that Playoff-contending Florida, which reportedly had 18 scholarship players, 3 walk-ons and 2 staffers test positive earlier this week, is now in a time crunch. Per the current COVID protocols in the SEC, a positive test means 10 days in isolation. Close contact with a positive test means 14 days in isolation (that was done to get ahead of likely future positives).
The LSU-Florida postponement decision came on Oct. 14. Ten days from now, Florida is scheduled to play Mizzou. In other words, that’s now in jeopardy.
Mizzou, in case you missed it, already had its game against Vandy postponed to the makeup weekend of Dec. 12 after the Commodores fell below the 53 scholarship threshold needed to play a game. It was rescheduled tentatively, of course. That’s what the makeup date is there for. But what happens when a program like Florida, which doesn’t share a bye week with Mizzou, already has a Dec. 12 makeup date filled and it needs to get creative?
Hence, the current mess.
There are other layers to this, and it actually harks back to the Big Ten’s announcement that it would play an 8-game, conference-only season without any bye weeks starting Oct. 24. There’s no makeup date, and with even more stringent protocols in place, some wondered how a team like Ohio State would be treated if it only went 6-0 with 2 games unable to be rescheduled.
One could apply that same thinking to Florida. If the upcoming Mizzou game is postponed, what would happen if it couldn’t be rescheduled? Would an 8-1 Florida team that beats a 9-1 Georgia team get the SEC East title? And how would the Playoff treat that?
The Playoff selection committee is already facing a year in which Power 5 teams will be evaluated after having played different amounts of games. The Pac-12 is playing 7 regular season games, the Big Ten has 8, the SEC and Big 12 have 10 and the ACC has 11. And that’s assuming that every game is going to be played. So far, that obviously hasn’t happened.
I believe #LSU-Florida marks the 29th COVID-related postponement of the season. It’s about 10% of games played, I think.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 14, 2020
But with some of those games being nonconference matchups, the priority to reschedule wasn’t as urgent. Now that we’re a month into the start of the Power 5 season, we’re running out of available weekends to make up conference games.
Even if you’re trying to keep an optimistic mindset about this atypical season, that’s a discouraging thought. So is the fact that even a program like Ole Miss, which dealt with an outbreak during training camp, is now dealing with its first in-season outbreak. This weekend’s game against Arkansas is still tentatively on, but with contact tracing, that can’t be considered a certainty.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin admitted during his press conference Wednesday that this snuck up on Florida. He said that he felt his team followed all the protocols and that it created the best possible atmosphere to protect itself against this virus.
That’s what makes this whole thing frustrating. We don’t know what specifically spread the cases within Florida, Vanderbilt or Ole Miss. For all we know, they didn’t do anything egregious. Stricklin suspected that it might be travel related, which again shows nothing related to playing games is particularly easy during a pandemic.
Whether this is the product of an inevitable reality or negligence, the result is the same. Games are being postponed now, and we’re left to pivot.
Who knows if the Playoff gets enough of a reason to pivot out of its Dec. 20 selection show — something that was already changed when conference title games were pushed back to mid-December — with Playoff games less than 2 weeks later on Jan. 1. TV contracts certainly prevented any sort of pivot off the 4-team model, but who knows how postponed games could change the entire bowl picture.
Or perhaps the selection committee will just be left to make its most difficult decision yet with the data it gets.
And by “most difficult,” I mean “messiest.”