There Probably Won't Be Football: A Modest Proposal Anyway
Look, it's hard, okay? The uncomfortable squirmy truth about college football is that it's inherently exploitative. We all know this. We do our best to ignore it. If we went to college before 1985, we might wash down our Metamucil, take our glucosamine chondroitin, and wave our canes shouting about the value of free education. That's okay. It's still doesn't change the fact that these unpaid players bring in a way, way more than the value of their scholarship to a lot of these schools. It's inherently exploitative.
So, this proposal was hard. It's complicated, okay. It won't happen, because that would require ADs, Coaches, Commissioners, and the NCAA to engage in levels of creative thinking that just won't happen on a Division I level.
But here's what I'm thinking:
1. Move It To Spring.
Okay, right there you've got issues. Any player with a halfway decent chance at getting into the NFL ain't gonna play. That's fine. Let them sit out. You've also got the other nagging issue of playing a lot of football in one calendar year. Which brings us to step two:
2. Mid-January to Early February, conferences begin playing division games only.
No cross-divisional rivalries. Just everyone in the division plays each other. (Iowa would play: Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.) This geographically silos teams more than just playing a conference schedule. It doesn't make much sense to me to have Rutgers come all the way out to Iowa- it also, I think lowers the number of games to six. (This wouldn't work for all conferences, but if you don't have divisions, you can make unbalanced ones just for this season.)
3. Two week pause, then conference title games.
Assuming this plan hasn't come apart at the seams by now, thanks to COVID, a two week pause would allow for 'bubbling' of teams involved in conference title games.
4. Post title games, it'll probably be March. Take a month off for basketball purposes.
5. April you begin a 16-team tournament involving the ten conference champions (G5 + P5) and six at large teams selected by the playoff committee. High seeds get on campus games, and conference champions get preferences- which means essentially, the P5 winners + three G5 winners get on campus home games.
6. Four weeks of games, then you have your national title game. Take a two week break again and then play it in mid-May.
There are some problems with this proposal right out of the gate. For a start, it means a lot of football packed into one calendar year. If you do this, then you'll probably have to truncate the 2021-2022 season before getting back to "normal" in 2022-2023. While some teams might be playing as few as 5-6 games, other teams will be playing up to 10 games in the spring and at least six more in the fall. Injury, wear and tear and COVID concerns are all real and probably undermine the efficacy of this concept right out of the gate.
You might be able to relieve some of the injury concerns if you rotate players in and out a bit more. Let the players who don't normally start have a shot-- because as I said at the beginning, any player with half a shot at the NFL isn't going to play and at the end of the day, none of these guys are getting paid. I would be hesitant to sign up to a scenario such as this if I was a player and that, more than anything else is the reason why this probably won't happen. But as a fan, it's nice to dream. As someone who's been curiously half-watching the professional leagues sort of 'bubble' their teams together and do a limited run of games/tournament model, it's a purely hypothetical attempt to see what such a scenario would look like for college football.
And I'm not going to lie: it'd be pretty cool to a see a 'Tournament of Conference Champions.' I think the more likely scenario is probably similar to what we're seeing with MLB. A conference only schedule limps along until it doesn't (thanks to COVID) and then we end up with a super truncated season or it gets straight up cancelled.
But, on the other hand. October is still a ways out. The odds of a breakthrough or two for therapeutics gets higher with every passing day. By then a vaccine could also be imminent. Given the way this year is going, I wouldn't bet on it, but you never know. It seems bleak at the moment-- and certainly locally, the impact of returning students on the case numbers is going to be an aspect of this worth watching, but all hope has not yet been extinguished.
(Of course, I'll post this and they'll pull the plug on the whole damn season by next week-- just you watch.)