College football is back and on track for a normal return, but I have a few questions about the approved calendar
If you’re sick of me asking questions, I apologize. It’s a weird year and I’m a curious guy.
On a side note, I wasn’t the kid who annoyed his parents with questions constantly, but I was definitely the kid who always asked what time it was. My dad used to call it “Connor time.” My wife bought me a watch and told me to shut up, which I found far more effective.
So, what time is it? Time for some college football.
That’s right. SEC teams are back on campus for “voluntary” workouts, which is the first sign of returning to some normalcy, though obviously the heavy COVID-19 restrictions won’t exactly make it a normal return to action. As of right now, the focus is still on having a season start on time.
Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reported on Thursday that the NCAA Football Oversight Committee approved a timeline for college football to return under an adjusted offseason timeline.
As long as the Division I Council approves this when they meet on June 17 — something that’s expected to be a formality — we’ll be on track for a normal season. Walk-throughs in mid-July with a football (for teams with a Week 0 start). That’s essentially a 6-week timeframe to get everyone up to speed with the preseason practice plan.
According to Pete Thamel’s report, teams with Week 0 matchups could begin required workouts on July 6 while the teams with with Week 1 matchups could begin required workouts on July 13. Those “required” workout times consist of 6 hours per week with the strength and conditioning staff and 2 hours per week of film study with the coaching staff. Beginning July 24, walk-throughs would allow for a 2-week period in which teams can have up to 20 hours per week of football activities. Eight hours would be devoted to strength training, an hour to film study and an hour to team meetings.
In other words, these 2 weeks would allow players work out with coach supervision and learn how to run a new offense. Sort of. It’s similar to the NFL’s organized team activities, AKA OTAs. The difference is that no pads or helmets are allowed in college.
That leads me to a few questions I have:
1. Is the “weird offseason” excuse still valid for a new-look group?
I know they’re my default example, but whenever that question comes to mind, I think of Georgia’s offense. You know, the group with 9 new starters, a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive scheme and a new quarterback. That group is scheduled to travel to Tuscaloosa in Week 3. It’s not crazy to think that a group that didn’t have anything more than 7-on-7s in the spring could be frustrated by having less time.
But now with this 2-week period of enhanced training to allow for teams to walk through their offenses, should that excuse be gone? You know what excuse I’m talking about. The “we’re fitting a lot of new pieces in” excuse. And to be fair, it’s a valid concern. You can bet that Kirby Smart has been flipping the calendar each month during quarantine, sweating the fact that his new-look offense is going to have a shortened period to work together.
This applies to units like LSU’s defense with Bo Pelini, and it’s on the minds of other SEC teams like Arkansas and Mizzou, both of which have major schematic and personnel changes to overcome in this weird offseason. Even Auburn, which returns Bo Nix and Seth Williams, still has major question marks with so much turnover on the offensive line and the whole “Chad Morris is running the offense” thing.
You could make the case that everyone is going through this, so it’s not a worthy excuse if a new-look team gets off to a slow start. You could also make the case that new-look teams would’ve benefitted more from a traditional offseason than a group like the Georgia defense, who is loaded with established veterans.
At the very least, 6 weeks is better than a couple of months ago when there was legitimate concern that teams would only get their usual 4 weeks of fall camp.
2. What does this mean for SEC Media Days?
Oh. It’s virtual.
This is one of those things that when the proposed calendar came out from Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger earlier in the week, it seemed inevitable that it was going to be followed with an announcement of virtual media days. There’s the obvious “we don’t want to force everyone’s best players to fly and potentially expose them during a pandemic” and there’s also another reason why this was inevitable.
We know that under this new agreement, teams will be allowed “summer access” from July 13-23, which means that players can participate in 8 hours of weight training, conditioning and film review (not more than 2 hours) per week. In other words, were coaches really going to want to miss out on that valuable time in this new calendar for SEC Media Days?
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey addressed that issue in the statement announcing the virtual SEC Media Days.
“Conducting football media days in a virtual format will provide us the opportunity to manage the event in a healthy manner as we continue to be impacted by COVID-19, and will provide flexibility for our programs to adjust their preparation for the 2020 football season according to the preseason calendar that is expected to be expanded due to the cancellation of the spring football season,” Sankey said in a statement.
3. What if state laws force certain schools back to Phase I and not others?
I know we don’t want to think about the possibility of this getting worse, but it needs to be addressed. We’re living in a time when we could see states — even within the SEC — decide to go back to Phase 1 after a spike in positive COVID-19 cases.
Again, fingers crossed that nobody deals with that.
Here’s what we know. Teams are required to have a 4-week preseason. If that gets interrupted, we could see regular-season games canceled. You won’t see a team get 3 weeks of camp canceled in early August who is then expected to play Labor Day weekend. That would be treated like a natural disaster cancelation. There wouldn’t be any contract buyouts because obviously, that’s totally out of a university’s control.
Here’s what else we know. If a handful of teams are forced to pause practices because of a statewide order, that’s not going to make everyone in the country stop. That’s good news. It would be bizarre to see the NCAA step in and require all FBS schools shut practices down just because Oregon and Washington couldn’t practice. That hypothetical, thankfully, won’t happen.
This is a state-by-state deal. According to Dellenger’s report, “during a conference call with members of the White House reopening task force last week, NCAA president Mark Emmert said officials were preparing as if every team won’t play football this year.” That’s key.
But what I want to know is how many schools this could potentially impact. And as we’ve discussed throughout the offseason, what happens if a big-time showdown gets canceled? Will certain teams pivot and find new matchups so that they don’t get stuck with 11 games?
Imagine if a team like Oregon was limited to 9 games with all of nonconference play wiped out. Would the Ducks have to run the table to make the Playoff? Probably.
Man, let’s hope that’s not something we have to talk about this fall.
4. What is the timeframe to decide attendance? And will it change during the season?
If you’ve seen any university presidents or athletic directors release statements saying they plan on having a certain number of fans at games, take it with a grain of salt. The reality is we’re still probably a ways off from that decision actually needing to be made.
As we talked about with programs not having control over state-mandated shutdowns, stadium capacity won’t be determined by athletic directors. If a state isn’t allowing public gatherings of 1,000 people come mid-August, I’m not sure how an athletic director could say “well, we’re limiting it to 50,000 fans.” I don’t know what that number is going to be, and neither will they.
As long as we have this calendar of events wherein football is scheduled to be played this fall, we shouldn’t see official announcements on this until mid-August. It could vary immensely. The last thing an athletic director wants to do is make a premature announcement that a stadium will only be at 25% capacity, only to find out a month later than they can actually have 35% capacity.
Then again, they could have some major demand for those final tickets … I’m getting sidetracked.
5. Can we all agree on 1 thing?
If there’s a full slate of college football on our TVs come Labor Day weekend, can we agree to limit our complaining to targeting calls?