Nearly three-fourths of the Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors told Stadium they believe the college football season will be delayed and 36 percent predict the season will consist of only conference games because of COVID-19.
Also, seven percent of the ADs told Stadium they don’t expect the season to be played at all during the 2020-21 academic year, while nearly one-third think the season will be moved to the spring.
“One death [of a coach or student-athlete] and we will all regret pushing this competitive envelope so hard,” a Group of Five AD said.
How much uncertainty has crept into the minds of the athletic directors? Three months ago, only one AD told Stadium there wouldn’t be football. Now, eight ADs are predicting there won’t be a season.
In a July survey conducted by Stadium, all 130 FBS ADs were asked: What is most likely in college football this season? Of the 130 ADs, 115 participated in the anonymous survey.
Friday serves as the 50-day mark until the scheduled start of the season on Aug. 29.
“You’re hoping to thread a needle and get through this without anything bad happening,” a Power Five AD said.
In mid-April, Stadium asked the athletic directors the same question and among the major differences in their responses three months later were:
• This week, 36 percent of the ADs predicted a conference-only schedule — either played in the fall or spring — compared to only 23 percent when asked in April.
• This week, 31 percent of the ADs said they believe the season will be moved to the spring, compared to only 14 percent in April’s survey.
• In April, only one AD told Stadium they thought there would not be football played this season. This week, eight ADs predicted there won’t be a football season during the 2020-21 academic year.
The biggest disparity in opinions between the Power Five and non-Power Five athletic directors was regarding a fall semester conference-only schedule with 45 percent of Power Five ADs predicting this model, compared to only nine percent of the non-Power Five ADs.
A majority of the athletic directors predicting a conference-only schedule said this model could also include one non-conference game. The most likely model, sources said, would be Power Five teams playing other Power Five teams in the non-conference because those conferences could afford more extensive testing measures than the non-Power Five schools and also have similar testing guidelines.
“Everyone seems to be developing nimble plans,” a Power Five AD said. “Hang on for the ride.”
A delayed start (there are some conferences already referring to it as a “paused start” because it doesn’t sound as negative as “delayed”) would mean the season gets moved back a few weeks into late September or October.
“I also believe [conference] championship games will be moved back by one to two weeks,” a Power Five AD said.
Still, there are those that believe — or more accurately, “hope” — the season starts on time.
“I’m realistic a full season as scheduled still has an edge over the other options,” a Power Five AD said. “I’m not implying it won’t be without chance for disruption, but it has an edge over other options.”
Added another Power Five AD: “I think we start as scheduled, but I would be shocked if we make it to the end as scheduled.”
The proponents of moving the season to the spring — 31 percent of ADs — believe the additional time is critical to acquire more affordable and accurate testing with quicker turnaround times to get the results.
“Anyone who doesn’t see the spring as a viable option is in total denial,” a Group of Five AD said.
There are many questioning a move to the spring due to the myriad of potential challenges that come with the change, like top players potentially sitting out because of the NFL Draft, an injured player missing the spring season plus the 2021 fall season and the strain on student-athletes having to play two football seasons during the 2021 calendar year.
“I believe the most important thing to do is to contain this to the best of our ability to a one-year process,” a Power Five AD said. “I know it means the spring sports will lose two years potentially, but if we play too late into the spring is it really in the students’ best interest to play again three months later?”
The biggest difference in the athletic directors’ thinking from the past three months came in the drastic increase in those who don’t believe there will be a football season played at all.
“If we don’t learn how to coexist with the virus, then trying to play games is an exercise in futility,” a Power Five AD said. “As of today, I don’t think it is feasible to play given the national discussion on testing and quarantine.
“Maybe that will change?”
A Group of Five AD predicts if the season is moved to spring it will be eventually canceled all together. “The virus will spike again in the winter, like all viruses do,” the AD said. “After that, people will panic and then cancel the scheduled spring season.”
On Wednesday, the Ivy League announced it would not play football in the fall and will determine at a later date whether to play in the spring. Multiple athletic directors said the Ivy League’s decision does not automatically mean the FBS schools will do the same thing.
“The Ivies aren’t as vulnerable financially as we are,” said a Group of Five AD.
Added a Power Five AD: “I doubt the Ivies have much influence [on what we do], but their decision might accelerate the decision-making progress.”
That decision is expected to be made by late July or early August, several athletic directors told Stadium.
“It’s constantly evolving,” a Group of Five AD said. “The next three weeks will be critical and will be telling for us as an industry.”
“No one — and I mean no one — has a clue right now what the college football season will look like,” said a Power Five AD.
One Group of Five AD summed up a lot of athletic directors’ feelings.
“Four weeks ago, I would have said we would have a 12-game schedule starting on time,” the AD said.
“Today, it feels more like the season will be moved to late fall or the spring. Four weeks from now, it may be something completely different.”