A Fall Saturday without football? I don't even want to imagine it
To borrow from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, I’d like to think I’m a glass-half-full person.
When it thunderstorms, I like to think about the farmers and everyone who benefits from getting some rain. When a pandemic forces all of us to self-quarantine, I like to think about the positive things I can start doing more often (going on long walks, talking more with out-of-town friends, spending time with my wife, etc.) without so many distractions. When a crappy day is over, I like to say “well, tomorrow is a new day.”
But the more and more I read about what’s going on, the more my mind goes to a dark place. That is, a world without college football this Fall.
That’s not just me making something up for “clicks,” despite what the comments to this column will say. That’s based on a few things.
CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd did some tremendous reporting to ask around about the likelihood that we’re without football this fall. Here’s what Warren K. Zola, a respected expert on sports law and executive director of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, said on that subject:
“I am not trying to be overly pessimistic, but I’m doubtful we’re going to have a 2020 football season, NFL or college. That’s just me. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re all back over the summer.”
That, of course, was on the heels of Kirk Herbstreit’s viral comments. The ever-popular ESPN college football analyst told TMZ, “I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this Fall, if we have college football. I’ll be so surprised if that happens.” Herbstreit cited how the COVID-19 vaccine potentially taking a year and a half to validate fueled his glass-half-empty approach.
That was expectedly met by some resistance. His colleague, Rece Davis, said it was premature to make a statement like that when we’re in the early stages of this virus in America. Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor came out and took an even stronger stance against the notion that we should already expect a fall without football.
Stadium’s Brett McMurphy surveyed 112 of the 130 FBS athletic directors, and the feedback showed that the majority of them believe we will have a football season. A reported 82% voted that there’s better than a 50-50 shot that we’ll have football in 2020. Why? College football has become so crucial to a university’s budget.
Take, for example, LSU. Look at how reliant the athletic department is on football revenue:
When you hear things from ADs like “football allows us to have other sports,” this is what they mean.
Take #LSU. Here are profit/loss numbers from each LSU sport in the 2016-17 cycle, from my time as a beat writer.
– Football: $56M in profit
– Other sports: ~$23M in losses pic.twitter.com/3Giw1YrdZF
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) March 31, 2020
Does that mean we’ll have football in 2020? No, but it should serve as a reminder of just how much athletic directors value a football season to be played. The question is when and what that’ll look like.
The idea of a Spring season has been floated around plenty. Lord knows that would create an extremely condensed timeline for the NFL Draft, though I think many would agree that if there’s anything we can do without, it’s the 4-month pre-draft evaluation period.
Because of my glass-half-full approach, I truly struggle to imagine what Fall without college football would look like. I think back to when I was 7 years old and I didn’t have much of an interest in college football yet (the 1990s Bulls were everything for a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago). Even then, though, one of my favorite Fall things to do was going with my family to nearby-Northwestern on a Saturday afternoon.
When I was in high school and college, back in a time when I admittedly got more fired up for college basketball than college football, I still often consumed College GameDay and I’d catch some of whatever primetime game was on ABC. (Don’t worry. Once my brain developed, the 3:30 CBS game eventually became a part of that Saturday routine.)
That’s my way of saying even when I probably took college football Saturdays for granted, they were always there. That was then. Like, before I spent 16 hours every Fall Saturday consuming the sport because thankfully, that’s what I get paid to do.
As I’m sure many of you can relate to as fans, my family knows how important those days are. They know by now that in the Fall, long phone calls or chores are for Sunday. Oh, there’s a group text of 16 extended family members talking about what happy hour drink they’re having? Sorry, there’s a 0% chance I respond to that on a Fall Saturday (and about 20% on any other day because massive group chats are worse than punting on the opponent’s 35-yard line).
You see, we as college football fans tolerate the longest offseason of any major sport because we know how great those 3-4 months are. We’re willing to put responsibilities/diets/budgetary concerns on hold because football is bigger than that.
Well, we finally found something that football isn’t bigger than.
COVID-19 already eliminated March Madness, The Masters and the Olympics. To think that college football is untouchable would be naive at this point. Perhaps never in our country’s history has there been a greater concern for public health. Decision-makers are on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis. I bet if you had polled athletic directors a month ago, the overwhelming majority would have predicted that we still would have had the NCAA Tournament.
Right now, that’s the only way we can treat this — day by day, week by week. Every time that I let quarantine brain drift to what my Fall Saturdays would look like without college football, I try to take the glass-half-full approach. For now, I operate under the Davis and Taylor approach of “let’s not jump the gun on assumptions just yet when we’re 5 months away from opening weekend.” Nobody knows when life will be back to normal.
All I know is that my sanity isn’t improving if I continue to let my mind drift to that dark place. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.