We're in for an unprecedented time in college football history.
It's becoming more clear with each passing day that if we do see college football this fall, it's likely going to look a lot different than it did last fall.
With the COVID-19 crisis impacting different areas of the country in different ways leading to different policies and regulations, the NCAA is declining to enforce a uniform return to college sports, instead passing that decision on state officials and university presidents.
"Normally, there's an agreed-upon start date for every sport, every season," NCAA President Mark Emmert told ESPN, "but under these circumstances, now that's all been derailed by the pandemic. It won't be the conferences that can do that either. It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans."
Without a centralized plan for the return to college sports, each individual state, conference and university will be left to navigate the unprecedented crisis relatively individually. It could lead to an extremely unpredictable few months, and we're already seeing the beginning with last-minute schedule changes and the possibility of delayed or canceled seasons all on the table.
Alabama and TCU are reportedly already in talks about a possible contingency plan to play each other in case their respective California opponents – USC and Cal – are unable to participate in the early-season matchup. Colin Cowherd has even gone as far as to report already that the September matchup between Alabama and USC will not happen, though athletic directors from both schools have refuted that report.
Told by two people I trust USC v Alabama isnt happening. Trojans cant even practice in LA potentially for several months. This is why Bama already talking to other possible opponents. Not official but understood. Feeling now that Pac 12 football in spring much more likely.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) May 13, 2020
Perhaps the even more eyebrow-raising portion of that report is that the Pac-12 could play football in the spring, which would either force other conferences to follow suit or leave the fall college football season without an entire Power Five conference. Regardless, that would be a massive change.
There's also the possibility that conferences could play even if some teams in the conference can't play, so another option that could reportedly come into play is replacing those games with home-and-home series against teams already on their schedule, meaning the teams would play twice during the regular season instead of just once.
Given that the Division II conference California Collegiate Athletic Association (which doesn't sponsor football) has already suspended NCAA competition for the fall, the possibility is increasing that some schools might not play football at all this fall.
Additionally, both the University of California and the California State University systems have said their campuses are unlikely to reopen this fall. That includes five Football Bowl Subdivision programs: Cal, UCLA, Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State. While it doesn't necessarily rule out NCAA competition, it's been believed by many that athletic competition would not return without students on campus.
If schools choose to cancel their seasons entirely, that opens up a host of scheduling issues, eligibility concerns, national title ramifications and potential player transfers to navigate, among many other consequences that could result from an unconventional year of college football.
It's an unprecedented time and nobody knows how all of this is going to play out, but it's clear the next few months are going to be a wild ride in the college football landscape, and it's already beginning. Buckle up.