This was a monumental week for college sports as we know it. The Big 10 and Pac-12 cancelling fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves felt around collegiate sports.
The act of canceling, which seemed unbelievable before the pandemic, was big but just the tip of the ice berg. To think of two of the nation’s storied conferences not playing sports, including football, seems mind boggling.
But, it’s the byproducts and debates that have followed that will change college sports forever.
First, consider what led up to the decision. Speculation has swirled since June on how conferences would handle the pandemic. Recently, the Power 5 conferences had been in talks to compare notes. What I want to know is where is the NCAA? It is supposed to be the governing body for collegiate sports. Doesn’t it seem logical that the governing body of an association would be involved in how member institutions reacted regarding the pandemic? Couldn’t it be a way to provide order and organization and get the Power 5 schools on the same page?
You would sure think so, but the NCAA has largely been quiet on how to handle football. Those decisions have been made by the individual conferences’ school presidents. (That’s a whole other issue.) Since college football’s champion is decided by the College Football Playoff, the NCAA seems less interested in intervening. The NCAA announced this week it’s canceling all fall sports championships, including FCS football.
The decision of football being left up to the individual conferences sets the stage for Power 5 schools to break away from the NCAA. Whether it be for football or for all sports, it’s clear there is a major fracture there. The NCAA has lost power during this time and when order is restored, things will be different. A lot of that will be determined by Power 5 leadership.
Now, that three conferences have canceled fall football, more dominoes have fallen, spelling a change for the future.
Nearly as soon as the Big 10 announced it wasn’t playing, Nebraska Coach Scott Frost said the Huskers planned on playing in the fall, opening up speculation they may join another conference. Michigan and Ohio State were also rumored to want to join a conference temporarily.
That has simmered down some, but it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one or two schools leave the conference, Nebraska being one of them. They had been longtime members of the Big 8 and then Big 12. Like Omaha-World columnist Tom Shatel said in a column this week, the fit with Nebraska and the league hasn’t been great. Part of it has to do with the Huskers not being as strong in football but in general it doesn’t seem great. So, maybe this decision (Nebraska’ president was one of two that voted to play) will spark a move back to the Big 12. The SEC would love to have a “super conference” and would probably welcome Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom have been outspoken with their displeasure with the decision not to play.
If the SEC, Big 12 and ACC all play this fall, that is going to really leave a mark on the Big 10 and Pac-12. Both leagues will lose power, and it’s worth keeping an eye on programs potentially leaving.
To me, the lost story was the players. There was a lot of talk about the presidents, conference commissioners, ADs and coaches, but the players are the product. Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence rallied players from across the country with the #WeWanttoPlay movement on social media, and players from Washington State created a graphic with all Power 5 logos included with a statement included the sentiment that the players were united in wanting to play.
After what has happened this summer with college athletes speaking up about racism following the George Floyd murder, it’s clear the players are powerful. If they were organized, it would be even more so. While a labor union may not work, an association will probably be implemented to help players’ voices be heard; especially now with new legislation that has been passed to allow players to profit from their likenesses.
The players were aware that their opinion ranked last in this decision and moving forward look for them to have more say in issues before the decision is already made.
It’s still unclear if, or how much, college football will be played this fall or spring. What is clear, is the pandemic made its mark on collegiate athletics that will be felt in the future.