With NFL moving forward, can college football do the same?

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As we wait for the final document memorializing the agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association on the parameters of pro football in a pandemic, it will be interesting to see whether the league has secured advance permission from the union to move several of the Sunday games to Saturdays.

It’s a subject on which the NFL needs to be keeping an eye, given the possibility that college football simply won’t be able to pull it off this year.

The latest piece of evidence that raises a red flag comes from the news that Rutgers shut down all in-person football activities and quarantined the entire team after six more positive COVID-19 results were announced on Saturday. The team has had 10 total positive tests since June 15.

The Rutgers shutdown comes a day after Michigan State decided to quarantine or self-isolate the football team after a second staff member and a player tested positive.

Several schools and conferences have decided not to play at all in 2020. The Power Five conferences continue to hold out hope for, at a minimum, a conference-only campaign.

It won’t be easy. Apart from the fact that the players are younger and far less inclined or able to shut down their lives away from the football facility (at a minimum, they’ll presumably be going to class), the fact that they don’t get paid makes it much harder to justify commandeering their lives from August through November or, if bowl games happen, December and into early January.

Look at the list of the things pro football players, through their union, have agreed to not do. Can highly-paid college football programs legitimately impose such limitations on unpaid college football players?

Then there’s the issue of supply and demand. At the professional level, there’s an endless supply of capable athletes. Indeed, 33 years ago the NFL found 28 rosters of replacements in basically a week after the regular players went on strike.

At the FBS level, only 85 players have scholarships. Next come the walk-ons, a limited supply of players not deemed to be good enough to get any value at all for what they do. After that, it’s time to pull students out of the stands and/or slap a helmet onto anyone they can find.

Another factor making an outbreak more likely for college programs is the fact that college programs likely won’t be testing with the same frequency and diligence of NFL teams. If they try, it will be expensive — and it will create questions about the ethics of gobbling up testing resources in areas that are struggling to test local citizens.

They will still try to pull it off at the college level. There’s too much money at stake, especially for the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12. But there are several fundamental differences between the NFL and college football, and those differences will become more obvious and pronounced if/when college football tries to push forward.

5 responses to “With NFL moving forward, can college football do the same?

  1. Move CFB to begin in January if they want a legit season.

    If there is a vaccine then they should be able to put fans in the stands. If not then either cancel or make a one year exemption and pay players to be in a bubble for the season.

    As currently contemplated there will be canceled games and almost definitely no bowl games or national championship which will make fans lose interest wuickly.

  2. The question is, if college football can’t go, do they hold a supplemental draft for the NFL in the fall? Damn good way to keep college players busy, and a huge swath of replacement-ready recruits to take over if some NFL players go down with the disease.

  3. In theory, pro players can go to practice and games, and then go home. That would at least slightly limit exposure. College players would have practice and games, but then go back to their dorm, go to classes, eat in the cafeteria, and likely interact with a lot more people. Yes, some pro athletes will make poor decisions, but they will at least have the option to limit exposures. College players may not have those same options.

  4. bjwbrown2011 says:
    July 26, 2020 at 9:50 am
    Move CFB to begin in January if they want a legit season.

    If there is a vaccine then they should be able to put fans in the stands. If not then either cancel or make a one year exemption and pay players to be in a bubble for the season.

    As currently contemplated there will be canceled games and almost definitely no bowl games or national championship which will make fans lose interest wuickly.

    Vaccines are not produced on demand and overnight, and certainly not for something so trival as trying to same a football season. The world doesn’t work that way.

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