• Peter Burtnett

Fall college sports in major jeopardy



Image courtesy of Peter Burtnett

Peter Burtnett

Co-founder of Impact Sports Media

With the announcement by the Big Ten that the Midwest's premier football conference would go to a conference-only schedule, and the reaction around the escalating COVID-19 case count, the danger is growing that no college sports will be played in the fall.

The decision by the Big Ten is expected to be followed by the Pac-12 and ACC, but this seemingly could just be the "tip of the iceberg" according to Bowling Green Athletics Director Bob Moosbbrugger, who referenced a "college football playoff agreement" between the ten FBS conferences to "work together for the good of college football."

As evidenced by the "tip of the iceberg" phrase, this decision will have massive implications on the college football season and the eventual College Football Playoff.

As of right now (July 10), the SEC and Big 12 have no plans or statements on whether they will move to a conference-only schedule, which means match-ups like Texas-LSU and Tennessee-Oklahoma are still in the works to be played. If it remains this way, the non-conference schedule will factor in to the CFP rankings for two conferences, which could make or break the teams that come from these two conferences.

Even if football is played this fall, it is looking more and more likely to be played in empty stadiums, like Notre Dame's famed stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Alex Mertz.

For Notre Dame, who in recent years has become infamous for staying independent, match-ups against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC are now unlikely (at best) to happen. Although they will likely work with the ACC to develop a schedule - with games against Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Duke, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Lousville already scheduled - two of their biggest match-ups of the 2020 season (Wisconsin and USC) will no longer be on their potential CFP resume.

However, the more concerning picture is whether college sports will happen at all in the fall. As COVID-19 cases have returned to an alarming upward trajectory, the reaction in the sports world is dangerously close to panic. And college football might be the most secure of the other fall sports.

While college football brings in tens of millions of dollars annually for many of the 130 FBS teams and carries the revenue for the "lesser" programs and divisions, other sports like soccer, volleyball and cross country are often left fighting for the scraps left behind after the football program devours the revenue.

An example of the financial implications of COVID-19 is seen in one of the nation's most prestigious schools: Stanford University. In an open letter to the Stanford community, the university announced they would "discontinue" 11 varsity sports (men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling) at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year.

While the letter suggested the decision was based on the declining ability to sustain these sports, the impending financial implications of COVID-19 likely played a deciding role in making this decision.

Stanford isn't the first, nor will they be the last, to cut varsity sports because of financial issues that arise because of COVID-19. However, while the fallout could have affects for years to come, the immediate impact is on fall sports.

The Ivy League was the first to completely put their foot down when they ruled out playing all sports in the fall, but the rest of the college sports world may be simply moving their foot down before eventually stomping on fall sports happening at all.

Although percentage-wise the COVID-19 pandemic still affects under one percent of all people in the United States, if case counts continue to rise at a rapid rate, the Big Ten's decision to move to a conference-only schedule could just be the first step for Power 5 conferences ruling out fall sports altogether.

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