In a perfect college football world amid imperfect conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting everything, Power Five commissioners would come to an agreement on how to operate.
Specifically, a singular set of guidelines pertaining to the 2020 season: if and when the season can start, whether campuses need to be fully operational first, whether fans can attend, what happens if a player tests positive, and an abundance of other questions currently floating around.
College athletics have always had an air of lawlessness to them, and decisions surrounding the 2020 season are shaping up to be no different. To be frank, the Power Five are not on the same page, and getting there is feeling less and less attainable with each passing day.
In interviews late last week coming off Pac-12 spring meetings, league commissioner Larry Scott was willing to concede that a “new normal” is upon us. Speaking with Stadium on Thursday, Scott said he would not be in favor of student-athletes playing football if they were the only students on campus but indicated he would be OK if “at least some students were back on campus.”
Bigger picture, Scott appears intent on sticking to an all-or-none approach as firm decisions on what to do need to be made, likely within the next six to eight weeks.
“If we want to play a full season, want bowl games and the College Football Playoff, we all have to move together,” said Scott, who views it unlikely that the Pac-12 would start a season without all of its members playing. “We have to agree on the same system.”
It is worth noting here that not all Pac-12 members have committed yet to on-campus classes in the fall. Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Washington State have said they plan to offer in-person classes. Colorado late last month announced its plans to institute a hybrid method for the fall semester, using virtual and in-person instruction.
The University of Utah, which is holding summer classes virtually, has not announced its plans for the fall semester. Utes athletic director Mark Harlan, the Pac-12 representative on the NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee, has said Utah will follow whatever guidelines the Pac-12 sets, but he has also indicated he is in favor of an all-or-none approach by the league.
Scott is preaching unity, not to mention prudence, but again, not everyone is on the same page.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a radio interview on Friday in Jacksonville that his hope is for all 10 FBS conferences to be on the same page, but he didn’t sound like he would hesitate to move his football behemoth forward if others aren’t ready.
“If there’s a couple of programs that aren’t able, does that stop everyone? I’m not sure it does,” Sankey said. “But the ability for us to stay connected will remain important.
“Hope is not a plan, but right now, the desire would be to have 11 states and 14 (SEC) institutions moving forward in a collective manner and, like I said, connected nationally so that we can celebrate the return of college sports.”
Sankey’s comments are noteworthy as some states begin reopening, but the most-glaring evidence of a potential free-for-all this summer and into the fall came further west from the Big 12.
On Thursday, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby said virtual-only classes would satisfy the school-in-session requirement for student-athletes to return to campus and football to be played. Bowlsby doubled down on those comments on Friday.
Bowlsby reiterated his stance Friday after NCAA president Mark Emmert said earlier in the day he can’t see fall sports starting if schools are in an online-only format.
If at least the Big 12 and SEC are ready to move forward with football, whenever that is, and the Pac-12 is not, is the Pac-12 simply left to fend for itself? Based on how Sankey and Bowlsby are operating at the moment, we may soon find out.
“Yes, we’re very optimistic, but also realistic, and we’re going to let the data and the advice drive us here,” Scott said Friday afternoon on ESPN700. “We’re going to stay flexible, but right now we have every reason to believe we can start the season on time and play it in full.
“I don’t think you’re looking at before the end of June, early July before that decision is made because we want to leave no stone unturned and make the best decision, not just in our league.”