The 2020-21 NCAA football season is set to kick off on Aug. 29 with a seven-game slate. This starting date is now in question thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home orders designed to combat it.
The key to a timely start to the season is practice time over the summer. The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee suggested this week that student-athletes must be able to practice for six weeks before the start of their season. This means schools would need athletes to report to their teams by late July.
University of Mississippi Athletics Director Keith Carter went even further, saying that he doubts the season will start on time if student-athletes are not on campus by July 1.
“We’re talking on our campus about a way to get our student-athletes back on campus for the summer. That’s important for us because we want to get the fall started on time and that’s our goal. We have to get our students back and get them in shape. If we get too far past then, it’s going to be hard maybe to start on time,” Carter said.
Some of the biggest challenges in finding a way back to normalcy are the lack of communication between states and the different approaches taken to combat the virus.
“It’s going to be an interesting situation because, in the SEC, there are 11 states that are represented. We’re trying to find a uniform way for all these states and institutions to come back and bring these student-athletes back and get them ready for the fall,” Carter said. “With each state having a different timeline, finding a uniform way to do that may be difficult, but certainly, everyone is on the same page trying to get that done.”
Carter is confident that despite these challenges, football will resume as planned in the fall.
“I just feel like there’s some momentum. Will we be playing football Labor Day weekend? I can’t say that yet but that’s our hope and that’s what we’re going to continue to push for,” Carter said.
Other schools are not as confident in a speedy return.
University of Connecticut president Tom Katsouleas told UConn journalism students “the current thinking is that fall sports will be cancelled — with the exception of those that can be played at a safe distance.”
Dr. Robert Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, says he doubts his Wildcats football team will be on the gridiron in September.
“I’m really concerned about whether we’re going to play football in the fall,” Robbins told KVOI-AM in Tucson, Arizona. “My sense, right now, I just don’t see that happening.”
Robbins also floated a strange idea for playing football and basketball at the same time.
“What I’ve been hearing more of is that maybe doing something combining both basketball and football for the spring, so January-February 2021, and try to play both of them,” said Robbins. “There will be all kinds of implications for television and viewing and confusion. I don’t know. We just don’t have any answers right now.”
That sentiment was echoed by university leaders across the country, who continue to search for answers.
Associate athletics director at the University of Oregon Jimmy Stanton said, “at this point, we don’t know the answers regarding specific impacts.”
Jeff Kallin, an associate athletics director at Clemson University in South Carolina, said “athletics departments will not set the parameters for a safe return. We will support any process that our federal, state or local officials suggest.”
Kallin also went on to say that the school “does not have a timetable for a return at this time.”
He says the school is focused on ensuring classes start on time, with athletics being a secondary priority.
“We are planning for a variety of outcomes, but the most important thing is classes starting back.”
The prevailing theme among athletics departments appears to be confusion. Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the fall or even what will happen in May or June.
“We’re just trying to think about all the scenarios and trying to get students back.” Carter said. “We’re going to get them back eventually, we just have to make sure we’re doing it the right way. I know our students are ready to get back and our coaches are ready.”