CFB picture getting clearer, but it’s not one we want to see


The last time we looked into the various possibilities awaiting university presidents and college commissioners, most of the discussion was about how far into the calendar year the season would be pushed before being allowed to start up. What wasn’t considered, at least not to the degree of start-date changes, was the shortening of the season itself. And in none of our previous models did we consider that some conferences would decide, outright, to skip the season.

All of that changed today when the MAC officially served notice that it would skip the fall season. The MAC also said it was working toward playing in the spring.

The second sentence is more of a bombshell than the first, because in essence, the MAC has decided that the college football season can be extended into 2021 regardless of what the Power 5 conferences decide to do as the month of August moves along. The MAC wasn’t going to seat any of its teams in the College Football Playoff this year, but that’s not the point: the point is, the MAC’s decision is a tasty worm on the end of a hook, and any college president or conference commissioner who is listening to his or her attorney suddenly has an out if he or she wants to take it.

The ball now goes into the court of the PAC-12, which has been the conference among the Power 5s mostly likely to request a longer delay in the season beyond simply opening up in mid-September. The PAC-12 is not only dealing with Covid-19 issues, but now also is embroiled in a controversy with its own players, many of whom are effectively attempting to unionize. This has spun up a mini-controversy of its own at Washington State, where the football staff has been painted as oppressive and ham-handed over its treatment of players involved in the push for more compensation and say-so in operations.

First Seattle, now Pullman. Who knew the state of Washington would be the epicenter of disquiet in 2020?

The point is, if the PAC-12 decides to either move its fall season or cancel it, the effect on the rest of college football would be catastrophic. Without one of the Power 5 conferences not involved, there would likely be no playoff – certainly not a playoff that would be viewed as having any legitimacy. It was already going to be tough to convince fans that a 10-game season was going to yield a legitimate champion, especially since there was no playoff structure hammered out yet on the back end.

If the PAC-12 delayed until spring, the effect would actually be more substantial than if the conference simply skipped football for the year. Would the other four conference champions have to wait until the PAC-12 finished its year before holding a playoff? For that matter, would the MAC challenge the legitimacy of a playoff held the previous fall the way the University of Central Florida tried to do a couple of years ago after being left out of the playoff group?

This is exactly the scenario many have been hoping for, especially some in the college football journalism business whose goals seem to be centered on stirring up as much chaos as possible. The FBS college football system has been under attack for years due to the money it both spends and also requires to keep afloat. A Washington Post editorial this week called for predictable “fixes” to college athletics: limits to staff salaries, forced layoffs of football support staff members the writer considered superfluous – but don’t dare touch the non-revenue sports that are a financial drain on athletic departments, because they are off-limits to any kind of bottom-line evaluation.

The fact college football has been able to remain not only relevant, but the unquestioned leader of all college sports, is in itself not just a testament to the power of free-market demand, but is also analogous to watching antelope try to stay ahead of prowling lions. The sport is violent, prioritizes strength, and is a representation of military strategy on a sports field. It has somehow managed to stay a step ahead of calls to make it less a depiction of all three of those influences, from critics who like to equate those characteristics with barbarism or some kind of social ill they invented specifically for the purpose of its criticism.

Now, a simple virus has managed to do with those self-styled academics could not. There is a larger point to be made here, about data accuracy, about the right of self-determination, about the tyranny of fear, about the specter of runaway power exercised under the guise of “the good of society.”

Those, however, are discussions best had in a forum other than this one. For the purposes of Alabama football in 2020, what it means is this: There is an increasing likelihood that there will be no season, or at least a very truncated one – and perhaps one without any championships attached. And that would be a shame, as it would likely mean Nick Saban’s most talented team of his tenure, top to bottom, would be left empty-handed.

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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