It’s time to answer some Junkyard Mail, and first up is the overriding question on the minds of college football fans …
Bill, the more I read about the prospects for the Dawgs getting to play football this year, the less sure I am that there’s going to be any 2020 football season. And I’m not sure even if there are games that I’ll feel comfortable attending them. I’ve seen alarmists state flatly there won’t be a football season, and other folks like Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy seem to be in denial that there’s any problem at all. You’ve always struck me as a straight shooter. What do you think is going to happen with the upcoming college football season?
— Danny Davis
There are a lot of variables and options at play, Danny, but here goes: Frankly, I’m skeptical that the season will start on time in late August and, if it does, that a full season will get played before a likely fall resurgence of COVID-19 shuts it down.
The College Football Playoff Committee already told Vice President Mike Pence that, if campuses are not open to students, players will not be playing games — which is as it should be. Not only would it be unfair to ask student athletes to take a risk that regular students weren’t having to take, but also, it would fly in the face of the NCAA’s carefully maintained “amateurism” construct. Abandon that, and the organization would be opening Pandora’s box, in that it would indicate players are an unpaid workforce, not true student athletes.
Of course, it’s possible that schools might go for a mix of tele-learning and in-person classes this fall, or they might even allow students to choose how to attend. If there are any students allowed on campus, though, I’m sure athletics officials will want athletes to be among them.
Still, would the powers that be really go ahead and start up a college football season when there’s the definite possibility they might have to interrupt it or, worse, cancel the rest of it if the pandemic flares up?
And, even if college football does get played in some form this fall, there remains the question of whether it will be played with fans in the stands.
Again, I’m skeptical thousands of people will be allowed into college stadiums this fall to sit shoulder-to-shoulder, because to do so in the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine would be pretty irresponsible. And, again, it might backfire in terms of legal ramifications if we were to see another “Game Zero” like the soccer match that is thought to have driven the heavy wave of sickness in northern Italy.
Still, assuming campuses are open, I can see the Power 5 college conferences agreeing to play games without fans in the house, just for television. It might not be the most pleasing entertainment or athletic experience aesthetically, but it would bring in TV money that might keep some schools’ sports programs afloat.
While it might not be safe for fans to congregate, the argument in favor of the TV-only approach is that you could test the couple of hundred players, coaches, staff, refs and media involved in a game. There’d still be an element of risk there, but considerable political/economic pressure to “reopen” football likely would end up prevailing.
Of course, another strong possibility — particularly if the virus never dies down this summer, or it flares up again very early in the fall — is for the season to be shifted into the first half of 2021. That’s an idea that seems to be gaining momentum, as ESPN’s Chris Fowler has noted.
If that’s the case, some observers foresee a January start, in order to get the games played before the best players have to declare for the NFL draft. (The NFL could, of course, delay its draft, but that’s not considered likely.)
Frankly, playing games in January isn’t a much better option than fall, and not just because of weather problems in some areas of the country; even when there’s not a pandemic, winter is prime time for contagious respiratory infections. And, there won’t yet be a vaccine.
Playing the season starting in, say, March, and having the playoffs in June seems like the safest option overall for the players, and one that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit indicated is being discussed by the sport’s decision-makers.
The main problems with a spring season: Some of the better players who are looking toward the NFL likely would opt out (as they routinely do for bowl games now), and those who did play would only have a couple of months off before the next season would crank up. That’s a lot of football to play in one calendar year.
As for the fans, many might be more inclined to think about attending a stadium event with thousands of others by spring, although, if there’s not a vaccine yet (and the earliest that one might possibly be approved is around that time), a lot of us still aren’t going to want to chance it. Recent polls have shown fans wary of attending games too soon, while a large majority said they would watch games on TV with no fans in attendance.
To get to the bottom line, Danny, I’m fairly confident it won’t be a totally “lost” season — one way or another, I do think at least some college football games will get played. There’s too much money riding on it.
However, I don’t expect it to be a very satisfying season, no matter which scenario plays out.
One more note: I was discussing all of this with Joel and Scott, two of my Bulldog buddies, and Joel wondered, if they show fan-free TV games, whether the networks should add some canned crowd noise. “Even though it would be pretty cheesy,” he said, “it would be really weird to watch a game without noise.”
My reaction was that fake crowd noise would, itself, be too weird, but I loved Scott’s response: “I vote no fake crowd noise. Anybody who watched Braves games in the 1970s already knows it’s no big deal to watch games played in empty stadiums!”
Hey Bill, Just wondering if you’ve heard what the renewal rate is for season tickets this year now that the deadline for renewing has passed. With everything currently up in the air right now, I’m curious if it might keep some people from renewing their tickets? I’ve been trying to relocate my seats for several years but no luck yet. Take care & Go Dawgs!
— Joseph in Kennesaw
As you know, Joseph, the UGA Athletic Association extended the deadline for Hartman Fund donors to order season tickets by a week to April 6, and offered “flexible payment options” because of the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic.
I put your question this week to Deputy Athletic Director Matt Borman, who runs the Georgia Bulldog Club, and he responded: “We are still finalizing all of our data for the seat selection process that will begin May 18th. Currently it is looking like we will be roughly 96% renewed.” And, Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton added: “We are still working with donors who have not yet renewed.”
Bill, I’m sure you’re like me and really missed getting to see what the new players, particularly transfer quarterback Jamie Newman, could do in the traditional G-Day game. But, based on what we do know, what are your thoughts on Newman?
— Tammy Hammonds
On paper, Newman, the starting QB for Wake Forest last season, sounds like the best choice behind center for the Dawgs in the coming season. Reports are that he has a strong arm, can throw downfield, and is likely to be a lot more elusive than Jake Fromm was, even if the Georgia coaches don’t ask Newman to run the ball as much as he did for the Demon Deacons.
I watched parts of recent replays of a couple of Wake Forest games from last season but only got to see a brief sampling of Newman. My brothers, Jon and Tim, watched some of a 49-7 blowout against Elon, in which Newman only played through the first series of the third quarter, but threw 5 TD passes. Tim’s report: “He can make all the throws. Threw 2 nice long balls, one for a TD. Sometimes throws too hard on short passes. In red zone, locked in on receiver, threw late and it was picked off. Wake ran that RPO offense like Auburn did with Cam [Newton], so threw a lot of slants.” He completed 27 of 35 passes for 351 yards. Added Jon: “He was elusive, but it was Elon.”
It also was early in the season, so the mistakes weren’t really surprising and perhaps not indicative of where his game stands now. All in all, I think he’ll be fun to watch and should help loosen up defenses, so Georgia can get its running game going.
Bill, speculating about the Dawgs’ incoming freshmen helps to while away the time while we’re all hunkering down without sports. Which freshman player do you think is most likely to get playing time and make an impact?
Considering the need for the Dawgs’ receiving corps to step up its game from last year, and the multi-receiver sets Todd Monken is likely to employ frequently, one of the first-year receivers joining the team, possibly Jermaine Burton, could get considerable playing time. But, overall, I think the safest bet for playing time out of the new class is Kendall Milton, the 5-star running back from California. I think he’s the best bet to occupy the third RB spot behind Zamir White and James Cook, just as D’Andre Swift did behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in his freshman season.
Bill, I admire coach Smart and agree with most everything he does but the schedule move exchanging the Tennessee game and the Auburn game seems to me to help both those teams and does nothing for us. Do you agree?
— Lebron Brock
It wasn’t Kirby Smart’s call. The conference made that move, with the acquiescence of UGA’s athletic officials. But, you’re right about it not really being to the Dawgs’ benefit, which is why it stirred up quite a fuss last year when the change was announced. Even a UGA sports insider told me at the time: “I just don’t see the gain for Georgia.”
Many UGA fans objected, not just because it ends a tradition (Georgia and Auburn had met in November since 1937), but also because Auburn asked for the change, and Dawgs fans are tired of AU getting its way. You’ll recall Georgia had to travel to Auburn two consecutive years to accommodate SEC expansion a few years ago, and the conference never did make that up to the Bulldogs.
Still, as I wrote last year, swapping Tennessee and Auburn’s spots on Georgia’s schedule is not that big a deal. We got used to the Florida game being in October, rather than November, after that change was made in 1992, and we’ll get used to this.