Conference Commissioners Said The College Football Season Could Happen Without Every Team

While college campuses grapple with how best to invite students and faculty back for the fall semester, college football is low on the list of priorities. After all, the athletes have to be able to live and learn on campus in order to represent their schools on the football field — lest you forget the NCAA’s insistence they are student athletes and not employees. Yet in a new survey at The Athletic of several conference commissioners, Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel uncovered optimism that football could come back without the participation of every school.

After a precious few weeks where every state operated under the same guidelines, the United States is moving toward a summer and fall with scattered local regulations that differ from state to state. That means a conference like the ACC, which stretches from New York (not close to a full “reopening”) to South Carolina (already on its way there), will have trouble making decisions for all its member schools at once.

“We’re in 10 states. Theoretically, we could have half of our schools being allowed to play at a certain point and the other half not being allowed to play,” ACC commissioner John Swofford told The Athletic. “Hopefully, it won’t turn out that way, but it could in any combination of play and not play. Then we would have some decisions, as any conference would.”

The AAC is in a similarly polarized situation with regard to the geography of its schools, as Tulane resides in the heart of an epicenter while other schools are in regions with very little struggle with the virus.

“We’re going to have a long discussion with our ADs about this, but the sense I’m getting is that we would play if the vast majority of our teams could play,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said. “If maybe there was a team or two that couldn’t, I don’t think the teams that couldn’t play would want to hold back the entire group.”

While it would be incredibly bizarre to have some schools shepherd athletes back to school in an effort to subsidize the rest of their conference and the college football industry, the fact that commissioners are open to it shows it may be more likely than logic would indicate.

However, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott threw some ice on these possibilities: “We’re all members of the College Football Playoff, and if we’re going to have a Playoff at the end of the season, we need to have uniformity on how we have a season.”

It would certainly ruffle the feathers of, say, Washington if their local leaders’ aggressiveness in fighting the pandemic resulted in not being able to participate in the season. Despite what other commissioners say, in practice the idea seems far-fetched.

The logistics do not favor the expeditious return of college football, either. Swofford told The Athletic that athletes would need to return to campus by mid-July in order to pull off some semblance of a 2020 college football season. On the other hand, many schools are worried about whether they will have procedures and technology in place to bring any students back when the semester begins in August.

Said Swofford: “If an institution is not operating at all from an academic standpoint in some way shape or form, it seems foreign to me that there would be athletic contests going on involving that athletic institution’s teams. But I think there can be different definitions of what a campus being open might mean given these circumstances.”

At this point, there are a lot of perspectives, some with more urgency than others, but like anything in this crisis, very little clarity, let alone certainty.