Desperate times call for desperate measures.
In these troubled times with COVID-19, one unifying theme for many in this country is the desire for the return of all forms of football.
However, the return of college football by September has taken some blows in the last 24 hours with the news of 23 Clemson players reportedly contracting the virus, the stern warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci that “football may not happen this year,” and rumors about a boycott of games and practices by UCLA players over pandemic safety concerns, etc.
What if a Clemson-like outbreak happens in September? Will that particular team have to cancel games for 2-3 weeks, maybe longer? Will opposing teams refuse to play them out of health concerns? What will the CDC and state governors have to say?
Back to the topic: Personally, I’m still bullish on a college football season. But I’d also say it’s unlikely the college football begins on time this season everywhere across the country. Why is that? Because there are too many unknowns at this point – too many to mention – that will play out over the next 10-12 weeks. Unfortunately, the news is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
However, I’m here to offer hope. I do think there is a pathway to create the greatest season in the history of college football. Here’s how we do it:
Create a March Madness-like playoff bracket for college football with a 64-team, single-elimination tournament.
The first four rounds are played over November/early December weekends, with the semifinals and championship game after New Year’s like now.
Think about all the early-round upsets and Cinderella teams you’d have in this format. This once-in-a-lifetime football playoff would generate huge interest and even a bigger payday for colleges under severe financial distress.
*What about regular-season games? Teams have the option of playing their normal schedule up until the playoffs, only a few select games, or no games. Every team can prepare at its own pace, with a goal of being healthy and ready by November.
*Then how do you pick the 64 if teams don’t play games? Maybe it’s 64 of the 65 Power Five conference schools. There’s around 130 FBS schools – maybe you have play-in games like NCAA basketball, or you add an extra round for 128 teams. But 64 seems like the right number, and I’d get there by rankings. Even if a team didn’t play any games before the playoffs because of a Clemson-like outbreak or other safety reasons, they could still be ranked on potential.
*How you would do the playoff seeding? By the rankings. You’d also spread around the Power-5 teams, so only a few teams from each conference would be in each regional bracket.
*Why would this March Madness-like event even be considered? Because all of sports, including college football, is in a mess right now. We’re only a few more Clemson-like outbreaks, especially when they happen later in the summer, from having a canceled season. Also, there seems to be too much of a rush and too much pressure for these teams to get in peak condition over the summer after such a long layoff, theoretically putting the players more at-risk for injuries. But it’s more about the COVID-19 collateral effect.
Under this plan, with the “real season” starting in November, each team can go at their own pace for preparation. Maybe UGA decides to play once per month in September and October BEFORE the playoffs, or maybe they play every week. It’s Kirby Smart’s decision, based on what he feels like is best for his players. Once the playoffs start, it’s one playoff game per Saturday.
*What if a team had a virus outbreak during the playoffs? They’d simply forfeit the next game, and playoffs would carry on.
*What if the virus returns stronger in November? Then maybe the tournament is delayed until the early spring; it just has to finish before the NFL Draft, and I’m sure the NFL would accommodate college football’s wishes.
*What about all the red tape with contracts for regular-season games, conference championships, and bowl games? That’s a serious problem. They’ll have to make one-time exceptions in the hopes of creating surreal fan interest and big pile of money generated by a one-time playoff format. It won’t be easy.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Thoughts? Please post below.