College football leaders are in the process of piecing together plans for a regular season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If it is possible to play, everyone anticipates there will be disruptions, added expenses and loads of stress just to get through it.
So how motivated will schools be to tack on a postseason game after all that? Especially one that doesn’t determine a national title?
“You’ve got to think they’ll be such a heightened sensitivity to adding another opportunity that doesn’t contribute to something else,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “I imagine the top bowls will want to try and still do it. But you’ve got to wonder if the schools will be willing to play. You made it through the regular season and now your going to add another event that adds complexity and cost.”
There are more bowl games scheduled for the coming season than ever before in major college football: 42, not including the College Football Playoff championship. Less than five months away from bowl season, most of them don’t even have a date locked in yet. If the regular season can be saved, can the postseason be salvaged, too?
“I have yet to hear one thought on the part of any of the conferences that they would have a regular season and not have a postseason,” said Nick Carparelli, the new executive director of the Football Bowl Association.
At the top of the postseason hierarchy is the playoff. The semifinals are scheduled to to be played Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and te Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The championship game is set for Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
As of now, none of that has changed, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.
“This is an event you can’t just pick up and easily move to a different time window,” Hancock said.
Then there are the other New Year’s Six games. The Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, is scheduled for Dec. 30. The Peach Bowl in Atlanta is set for early afternoon New Year’s Day, leading into the semifinal games. The Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, and Orange Bowl in South Florida are scheduled for Jan. 2.
Those games, along with the semifinals, are part of 12-year, $5.6 billion media rights deal with ESPN that pays about $470 million annually. Most of the money ends up with the Power Five conferences, though some trickles down to FCS.
“We’re going to be as flexible as they need us to be,” Peach Bowl chief executive officer Gary Stokan said. “If they need us to move back two weeks, we’ll move back two weeks.”
Fiesta Bowl CEO Mike Nealy said bowls of all shapes and sizes will need to be flexible this year.
“From our standpoint, we know that dates could change,” said Nealy, whose organizing group also runs the Cactus Bowl played at Chase Field in Phoenix.
According the website FBSchedules.com, dates and times have not been locked in yet for 31 major-college bowl games.
Those could start falling into place soon with conferences expected to roll out new regular-season schedules as soon as next week. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already said they will play only conference games.
The other Power Five conferences appear to be moving toward playing mostly conference games. That causes issues with the bowl selection process from the CFP down to the Cure Bowl, which matches Group of Five teams in Orlando, Florida.
Fewer nonconference games will make it more challenging for the playoff selection committee to pick a four-team field and rank teams to create the other New Year’s Six bowl matchups.
“The committee’s job fundamentally hasn’t changed,” Hancock said.
As for the rest of the bowls, if teams are mostly playing within their conferences, with fewer opportunities to pad records against lesser competition, it will make it more difficult for 84 teams to finish the season with at least a .500 record, the minimum for bowl eligibility.
The NCAA already has contingencies to allow teams with losing records to play in bowl games. That might need to be re-assessed if the number of games played fluctuates from conference to conference and team to team.
“Is there something else we define as a deserving team?”said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who leads the NCAA’s football oversight committee.
Everything from when the regular-season will start to when it will end is up in the air.
Commissioners across all conferences have indicated league championship games, scheduled for Dec. 5, could be bumped back a week (Dec. 12) or even two (Dec. 19) if there is a need. The bowl season is scheduled to start Dec. 19, a day that would usually feature five or six games.
Lyons wondered if some bowls might decide not to hold their games if restrictions are placed on how many fans can attend.
Carparelli, a former Big East executive who oversaw football before the conference’s break-up, said none of the 42 bowls, including new games to be played in Los Angeles, Boston’s Fenway Park and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, have given any indication they will not put on a game if there is a season.
“And they’re prepared to be very, very flexible when the time comes,” he said. “In terms of the dates of the game, what the bowl week would look like and how it would be different than in a normal year.”
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