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The kickoff of football season is right around the corner. And like everything else, college football has been impacted by COVID-19 in a big way. As we inch closer and closer to the start of the season, we getting more information on college football’s response to the pandemic. Here is what you can expect from college football in 2020. (This is a very fluid situation that is changing daily. So, we will keep this post updated as we get new information.) (Updated 9/26/2020)
While most of the specifics regarding college football in 2020 are being decided by the various conferences and schools, the NCAA has provided some guidelines for teams to follow. These guidelines include the following:
- daily self health checks before entering athletic facilities
- the use of face masks and social distancing during practice and games
- testing and results within 3 days of competition in high contact risk sports
- adhering to local public health standards
- all individuals with high risk exposure must quarantine for 14 days
Big Ten & Pac 12-UPDATED
Both the Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences announced months ago that they will only play conference games in 2020. They quickly canceled all nonconference games for this season. Then in August, both conferences canceled the 2020 season completely. Some schools in the Big Ten, including Nebraska and Michigan, wanted to play this year, regardless of the league’s decision, and began looking at options. Additionally, many players and parents were upset with the conferences for this decision and became very vocal in expressing their displeasure. After several weeks of backlash, the Big Ten reconsidered its decisions and changed its mind. Now, it will begin play in late October.
The Pac 12, on the other hand, was relatively quiet after its decision to cancel the season. Everyone involved with that league appeared to accept the fact that they would not be playing this year. But, after the Big Ten reversed course, the Oregon governor made a statement that there was no state law preventing Oregon and Oregon State from playing this season. The PAC 12 has now reversed its decision. It will begin a 7-game conference only schedule on Nov. 6. The conference championship game will be held on Dec. 18.
The ACC will proceed with an 11 game schedule this year. Teams will play a 10 conference games and one nonconference game. For the 2020 season, they will add Notre Dame as a conference member in football. (Notre Dame is already a member of the ACC for all other sports.) Notre Dame will be eligible for the ACC championship this year. Additionally, Notre Dame would be eligible to be the ACC’s representative in the Orange Bowl if they are not selected to play in the playoffs at the end of the year. They will keep their independent tv contract with NBC, but will share revenue with the other ACC teams. The nonconference games must be played within each school’s home state. These nonconference opponents must meet the health and safety protocols used by the ACC with regards to the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams will begin the season the weekend of September 12, with the first game being on September 10. Each team will have two bye weeks. The 2020 schedule tries to include more regional games to minimize team travel as much as possible. There will be no divisions within the conference this year. The conference championship game will be played either December 12 or 19 between the two teams with the highest conference winning percentages.
The SEC is playing in 2020, but will have a conference only schedule. They will expand their conference play from 8 to 10 games, however. Currently, they are scheduled to start the season on Sept. 26. Additionally, the conference championship game has been pushed back to Dec. 19.
Like the ACC, the Big 12 will play a “conference plus one” schedule this year. Each team will play their normal 9 conference games plus one nonconference game. The Big 12 will play nonconference games on September 12 and conference play will begin September 26. All nonconference games must be completed prior to this date. Each team will have two, or possibly three, bye weeks during the season. The conference championship game will tentatively be held December 12.
The Group of 5 Conferences & Independents-UPDATED
The Group of 5 FBS conferences (American, Mountain West, MAC, Conference USA, and Sunbelt) are also adjusting their seasons for this year. Each of these conferences has been affected to some extent by the loss of Big Ten, SEC, and Pac 12 nonconference games.
The MAC became the first conference to cancel the 2020 season. A few days later, the Mountain West announced they were also canceling their season. After the Big Ten announced they were going to play this fall after all, both the MAC and Mountain West began reconsidering their decisions to cancel the 2020 season. The MAC will now begin play of a 6 game season on Nov. 4. They will play a championship game on either Dec. 18 or 19. Meanwhile, the Mountain West will start their season on Oct. 24. They will play 8 games and have a championship game on Dec. 19.
Meanwhile, the Sun Belt, American, and Conference USA are playing eight conference games and up to four nonconference games this year. The Sun Belt will start the season Labor Day weekend.
Old Dominion, who plays in Conference USA, has canceled its season. The University of Connecticut, who left the American Athletic Conference in 2019 and was slated to play its first football season as an independent this year, has also canceled the season. Additionally, the University of Massachusetts and New Mexico State, also independents, have canceled their seasons.
Approximately all of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. 1A) conferences have announced that they will not play sports, including college football, in 2020. The Big South, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Southern, and Southland Conferences are allowing schools to play nonconference games if they choose. FCS independents Tarleton State, Presbyterian, and Dixie State will also sit out this fall.
All Division II and III football games have also been canceled for 2020.
What It Means For Fans
The big question most football fans are asking is “what does this mean for fans?” Will college football games be televised? Will fans be allowed to attend games in person? If fans are allowed at a reduced capacity, who decides what fans get in? While we don’t have answers to all of these questions yet, we do have some information.
Whether fans will be allowed to attend games in person (and how many are allowed in) will be decided by governors and university presidents. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that fans will not be allowed at any college football game played in his state. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stated that only 500 fans will be allowed at Rutgers games. Texas governor Gregg Abbott has stated that universities in his state can have 50% of their capacity in attendance, but the presidents of Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU are looking at capping attendance at 25%. Texas A&M is leaning towards allowing in the full 50%. Alabama will play in front of 20% of its normal capacity crowds during home games, while Oklahoma will cap their attendance at 25% capacity. Oklahoma State has stated that masks will be required to be worn inside their stadium and has banned tailgating.
The SEC has announced that fans must wear masks while entering, leaving, and moving around within stadiums. It appears that fans can take them off while in their seats and appropriately socially distanced from others however.
If you wish to attend a game in person, please check the home school’s website in advance to learn of any requirements for attendance.
ESPN, CBS Sports, and other sports stations have been hurting for content since the pandemic hit in March. So, it is safe to say they will televise as many college football games as they possibly can this fall. As conferences begin to finalize their schedules, we will learn which games will be broadcast and on what stations.
College football is a way of life for many people. But, this pandemic has put the current season in serious question. The good news is that it seems at least some conferences are trying their best to make the season happen. Like most other sports, college football in 2020 will look different than we are used to, but hopefully it will show up in some form or fashion. For more on sports during the pandemic, see MLB in 2020 and NBA and MLS are going to Disney World. Happy travels!
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