Almost immediately upon the Big Ten and Pac-12 postponing fall football earlier this month, questions arose in regards to playing football in the winter or spring.
Is it feasible? If so, how many games? Will the NFL Draft accommodate winter/spring college football? Either way, will college players opt out? What about bowl games?
Most questions pertaining to a winter/spring football season are at least several weeks away from being answered, but Kyle Whittingham has clearly spent time thinking about them with his University of Utah program biding its time with no football season this fall.
“I think it’s doable,” the Utes head coach said Tuesday morning on a Zoom call, his first media availability since the Pac-12′s postponement announcement on Aug. 11. “I think, right now, it’s probably 50-50 at best that we can pull something like this off, in my opinion. I don’t have any inside information other than just my own thoughts.”
Whittingham’s critical bullet point Tuesday is that whatever spring season may happen, it should not impact a normal, on-time start to the 2021 season next fall. The 2020 season has already been radically impacted in a handful of different ways, including financially as Utah is projecting losses of up to $60 million with no football this fiscal year. Decision makers in both the Big Ten and Pac-12 would rather avoid having the 2021 season impacted with a late start.
If an on-time start to the 2021 season next fall is critical, then beginning the postponed 2020 season in the winter as opposed to spring almost assuredly has to happen. Again, Whittingham has clearly spent some time thinking about this. In his mind, for an abbreviated season, a spring-ball type of situation could take place at some point this fall, followed by “fall camp” in early January with games beginning in late January or early February.
For what it’s worth, there are rumblings of the Big Ten trying to cobble together an abbreviated season, with a January start and games played in domes across the Big Ten footprint.
“The one thing I would say is eight would have to be the absolute maximum number of games in spring in order to not impact a fall season,” Whittingham said. “I think more like five, six, or seven is probably a better number to ensure the players, with the wear and tear, and the physicality of a season are able to withstand it, then do it again starting at the end of August or September.”
Television networks and bowl officials would likely get involved with an abbreviated spring season, giving it legitimacy, regardless of how many FBS leagues or programs ultimately take part.
Conversely, while the NCAA has opted to freeze everyone’s eligibility clock, meaning no one spends a year of eligibility no matter what happens in 2020, legitimacy in the spring may be tough to gain by playing only five or six regular-season games. In fairness, five or six could become seven or eight based on a potential Pac-12 championship game, followed by a bowl game of some kind.
Regardless, the optics of asking student-athletes to play what may amount to 20 football games in the same calendar year is going to produce poor optics, especially in an era where medical professionals are hypervigilant about concussions and head injuries.
Whittingham, who indicated a clearer look at the path forward for the Pac-12 could come inside the next month, noted that while his spring practices are generally physical with a fair amount of hitting, it would not be as much physicality as an eight-game season would produce.
If the options are eight games vs. traditional spring practice, at least one high-profile Ute will opt for the former.
“Everyone wants to play 12, but I think guys would play eight in the spring because that’s better than spring practice,” Utah redshirt junior wide receiver Britain Covey told The Salt Lake Tribune late last week. “I think that’s realistic without getting too beat up. Spring ball is also pretty grueling, but I do think eight games in the spring is realistic. If you have three months between seasons and one of them is only eight games, you’re going to be OK.”