Spring football has been a part of the sports calendar for decades and it’s always something to look forward to for the college fan.
Of course, those in Lincoln, Neb., get a little more into the idea than fans in, say, Boulder, but hey, it’s still a big deal.
Spring ball has a whole new meaning as we look ahead to 2021, however.
With the Pac-12 and Big Ten postponing the fall seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic, the next possible time for college football games in those conferences is after Jan. 1.
Unlike the traditional spring (14 practices and a spring game), there is the potential for actual games to take place during the first part of next year.
How will that look? Well, we don’t know, but already there are potential spring/winter ball models showing up. In this edition of the Rewind, I’ll offer up my suggestion for a spring season that looks quite a bit different from what I’ve seen elsewhere.
LEADING OFF: Salvaging a 2020-21 season
Before I get into my idea, let me make it clear that I’m not criticizing any other plan I’ve seen. At this point, everything is on the table and all ideas should be welcomed. There have been a lot of ideas thrown out, with the most detailed coming from Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm.
Brohm developed an extremely detailed, two-year plan that includes an eight-game spring season (Feb. 27-April 17) followed by a six-team playoff (May 1-15). That would be followed by a late start in fall 2021, with a 10-game season from Oct. 2-Dec. 11 and a six-team playoff again. Brohm’s plan includes a bunch of details on limiting padded practices.
While Brohm was trying to come up with a plan that focuses on player safety, I came away thinking Brohm’s main objective was expanding the playoffs – because if you go to six teams two years in a row, they aren’t going back to four.
My plan is far less aggressive than what Brohm is proposing and less aggressive than just about any other I’ve seen.
To start, a couple of notes about this plan:
1. This includes everybody. I know the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, as well as the AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt, are striving to play this fall, but I believe it’s only a matter of time before they shut down, too. I’d be shocked if those schools play this fall, and if they do, I don’t think it’ll be more than a couple of games. Even if those conferences do play, my plan works just fine for the Pac-12, Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC.
2. Let’s forget this idea of crowning a champion and having any kind of bowl season or conference title games. Every single plan I’ve seen has included some sort of championship method and I would scrap that idea. If rosters are going to be impacted by numerous opt-outs – which is almost a guarantee, and we’ve already seen some impact – let’s treat a potential spring season for what it would actually be: a glorified exhibition. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s OK if we don’t have a champion this year. Basketball has to live with that, and so can football.
We were told last week that the decisions to cancel were rooted in the health and safety of the student-athletes. Whether you believe that or not, that’s going to be the basis of my plan: a six-game, conference-only schedule from Feb. 6-March 13.
The basic details:
- Fall practices: 15 sessions, broken up in two periods before and after Thanksgiving break.
- Training camp: After a two-week holiday break and one week of workouts after returning to campus, teams start a three-week camp Jan. 11.
- Regular season: The first weekend of February could be massive, with college teams kicking off Feb. 5-6, and the NFL wrapping up with the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Then, college takes over for five weeks, through March 13.
In the Pac-12, each team would play the teams in their division and one cross-over game. For the cross-over games, match teams based on the 2019 standings (South champ vs. North champ, South No. 2 vs. North No. 2, etc.). In addition to facing South foes Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah, the Buffs would meet Washington State.
This plan would:
- 1. Allow schools to recoup some of the money lost by not having a fall season.
- 2. Give players a chance to play and shake off the rust from a 13 or 14-month layoff without taxing their bodies too much.
- 3. Provide a four-and-a-half month break after the season to rest, recover and prepare for an on-time 2021 season. For many teams, who end spring drills in mid or late April, this would be a longer offseason than normal, but much needed after a tougher spring.
- 4. Football to finish just in time for the college basketball teams to get their deserved time in the spotlight for March Madness. The regular season would end March 13 and NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday is scheduled for March 14.
This model would also have the college season end nearly seven weeks before the NFL Draft, currently scheduled for April 29-May1. While some of the top draft hopefuls would surely opt-out, it’s possible that many would chose to play and take the opportunity to showcase their talents in a game setting for six weeks. There are plenty of players who could boost their draft stock during that time, and the NFL could hold a combine in late March. Even if most of the draft hopefuls do opt out, this six-game model would at least give some game time to those planning to return for the 2021 season.
Playing this year will not count against players’ eligibility. Because of that, there’s no need to try to squeeze two full seasons (or nearly full) into one calendar year. Shake the rust off, recoup a bit of money and prep for a full 2021.
I’d also let mid-year and junior college transfers and early enrollee freshmen play, because they likely had their fall season canceled, too – and teams might need the extra players.
CU head coach Karl Dorrell has expressed concerns about a spring season, especially for the toll it takes on linemen. Limiting the season to six games can help. And, with it being treated as an exhibition, the Buffs and other teams can use the time to rotate more players. That, too, can limit some wear and tear.
This isn’t the perfect plan, but nothing has been close to perfect this year anyway. This is, however, a model that gives the players a chance to play without compromising the 2021 season or the NFL Draft.
Of course, like everything else this year, this plan – or whatever plan is actually adopted – will depend on the trajectory of the coronavirus and the development of tests, medications or a vaccine.
PLAYER THOUGHTS: Perry weighs in
After the Pac-12’s announcement that the fall season was being postponed, I caught up with CU defensive back Mark Perry.
Many questions still need to be answered about what a potential spring season will look like, but Perry told me, “I’m pretty anxious to see what’s going to happen, who is going to take initiative and take the leadership to step up and actually come up with a plan this time. It obviously failed the first time, so I feel like this is kind of a second chance to come up with a real, better plan to be able to play football sometime in 2021.”
By the time Perry and the Buffs hit the field again, the game could look a lot different. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic will bring about changes, some of which will be permanent. For example, it’s quite possible that paper tickets are a thing of the past.
Beyond that, however, this has been a big year for players in terms of name, image and likeness, and having their voices heard.
The decision by the Pac-12 came shortly after a group of players in the conference came together for the #WeAreUnited movement to spark some change in the conference. While Pac-12 leaders said the decision to postpone was based on the advice of medical experts Perry said, “I feel like 50 percent is because of the actual virus and I feel like 50 percent is also because of all the different things that have been going on – players asking for more payment during a pandemic and all the #WeAreUnited movements.”
Postponing prevents the Pac-12 from having to immediately address some of the demands of the players, but not necessarily brush those concerns aside. Perry believes plenty of changes are coming.
“I honestly feel like college football is going to change in the next year, year-and-a-half,” Perry said. “We’re going to see some changes eventually.
“It’s just the start of something way bigger. I’ve always been told it’s bigger than football. Especially during this whole pandemic, I’ve tried to think , ‘OK, what am I good at other than football? What am I going to do after football is done? I found out that in myself I’m good at helping people and I want to leave things better than what I found it. If I can be a part of something helping players get a voice and having them be heard I’m going to do that. I’m going to do whatever has to be done to help do that.”
Although Perry has not been at the forefront of the #WeAreUnited movement, he has kept himself informed of the situation and he said he’s excited to potentially be a part of some change in college sports.
“Yeah, for sure, because that’s not going to be something that happens and you forget about it,” he said. “That’s going to be forever.”
1. Arizona hasn’t been very good on defense for several years, but CU’s Pac-12 South rival has lost three of its best players on that side of the ball – all of which were three-year starters for the Wildcats. Safety Scottie Young Jr. left the program and landed at West Virginia in May. Linebacker Tony Fields II left in July and he, too, chose West Virginia. Both are graduate transfers who could play right away for the Mountaineers, who are trying to play this year, along with the rest of the Big 12. Then, last week, linebacker Colin Schooler, who has 312 career tackles, entered the transfer portal. Also a graduate transfer, Schooler, the 2017 Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year, hopes to play right away this fall. Also leaving the program was Schooler’s brother, Brenden, a receiver who came to Arizona as a grad transfer from Oregon last winter.
2. A few other Pac-12 standouts to leave their teams recently:
- USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele announced he is going to opt out of the 2020-21 season – if there is a season – and prepare for the NFL Draft. Tufele, a junior, registered 4.5 sacks last year and was named preseason first-team All-Pac-12 by most major publications.
- Washington State receiver Tay Martin entered the transfer portal and announced Saturday he will play at Oklahoma State. Martin, from Louisiana, said he wanted to be closer to his 1-year-old daughter. He’s not a graduate transfer, so he will need a waiver to player this season. Martin caught 143 passes for 1,615 yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons at Washington State.
- The Cougars could also lose a key player on defense, as senior safety Skyler Thomas entered the transfer portal. He started 25 games over the past two years and led the Cougars with four interceptions last season. (UPDATE: On Monday morning, Thomas announced he is pulling his name from the transfer portal and will remain at WSU.)
- California’s Luc Bequette, one of the top defensive linemen in the conference, entered the transfer portal. A sixth-year senior, he’s been a three-year starter for the Bears. Bequette said he’s exploring his options to play this year. (UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, it was reported Bequette is transferring to Boston College).
3. The preseason Associated Press Top 25 was released today – another bitter pill to swallow for those not playing this year. Voters were asked to rank teams as normal for the preseason poll. Once (if) the season begins, the in-season poll will only include those teams playing. As I joked on Twitter, this is probably the year I should have put the Buffs in the preseason Top 10, because there is no way I could have been proven wrong! I decided, however, to vote how I normally would have. So, here is the preseason Top 25 ballot I submitted:
2. Ohio State
4. Penn State
6. Notre Dame
9. Texas A&M
19. Oklahoma State
20. North Carolina
24. Arizona State
25. Central Florida