Of all the major sports that are trying to figure out how to coexist with the coronavirus pandemic, college football could be the most vulnerable to a full-season cancellation.
There are too many major programs. Too many huge stadiums in otherwise non-huge towns. Too little flexibility when it comes to shifting around schedules. Too many questions and concerns regarding the overlap between the reality of athlete and the quasi-fiction of student.
Meanwhile, the entire industry is a subset of a much bigger industry that has much bigger challenges than figuring out how to proceed with sporting events.
Consider this: The University of Oklahoma recently has suspended all in-person events through July 31, including all camps and athletic competitions. That deadline nearly overlaps with the launch of football training camp, in early August.
If, in early April, Oklahoma realizes that nothing should be happening through July and if, as most agree, the situation will continue to get worse before it gets better, significant decisions could be coming soon for major colleges that may be more than willing to press pause on athletics for a small fraction of the student body while focusing on the broader mission of educating thousands.
There are very real business reasons for figuring out how to play (and televise) college football, but the endless effort to make college football more about college than football will make it harder for the colleges to justify the kind of overt and blatant efforts to save the season in which pro sports are engaged. Indeed, if college football hopes to continue to perpetrate the notion that it represents amateur athletics, the NCAA and its member schools will have no choice but to scrap the season and focus on the semester.
Unless and until college football is willing to abandon the ruse that it’s not a billion-dollar cash machine aimed at financing large salaries for coaches and administrators and everyone but the players, college football can’t credibly behave like the NFL can and will as the NFL inevitably tries to figure out how to play its games. Of course, the NFL ultimately may not be able to figure out how to play its games, either, but the essence of pro sports justifies trying. For supposedly amateur sports, it will be difficult to do much along the lines of plotting and planning alternatives without necessarily admitting that there’s nothing amateurish about it.