top of page

College Football is "Doubtful" for 2020; Too Much Walton; Green Goes Pro

It's becoming increasingly likely that there will be no college football season this fall.

At least not the kind of season we’re used to having, with tens of thousands of fans sitting shoulder to shoulder in a big stadium.

California governor Gavin Newsom made that perfectly clear last week when discussing his road map to lift COVID-19 restrictions in his state. "Large scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers all together across every conceivable difference, health and otherwise, are not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations," he said.

Newsom said the prospect for mass gatherings is "negligible at best," until a vaccine or cure is developed, or until the state reaches "herd immunity," that is, when enough people have been exposed to the virus to prevent its transmission.

All of those possibilities are several months, if not a year, away.

Other sports are similarly affected. If Major League Baseball is to have a 2020 season, it will likely be played exclusively in Arizona or Florida—where the plethora of spring training ballparks could make it possible to play 10-15 games per day—or in Las Vegas, without any fans in attendance. These plans have drawn criticism from players and media, but have some support among MLB owners and the medical community.

“There’s a way of doing that,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the president’s task force and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put the players in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them well surveilled…Have them tested every single week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”

Fauci didn’t explain how you can “make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family,” which is why a lot of people find the plan suspect at best.

College football is unique because it is the lifeblood of almost every college athletic program in the country. Its revenues are essential to provide funding for the so-called "Olympic" sports such as volleyball, swimming, water polo, soccer, gymnastics, etc.

Playing “made for TV” games without fans is far from ideal, and in fact seems borderline heretical, but it would allow conferences and member schools to keep their No. 1 source of revenue…television.

Consider that the Big Ten, for example distributes about $50 million per year to its member schools. More than two-thirds of that money comes from TV rights fees and cable subscriptions.

Game day receipts from tickets sales and concessions are the No. 2 source of funds and still bring in huge revenues for most Big Ten and SEC schools (plus a few in the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12). Michigan and Ohio State, for example, can generate $5 to $7 million in ticket sales and concessions for a home game.

With TV—but without paying fans—many schools would have to make cutbacks in staff, travel and recruiting, and perhaps even eliminate a few non-revenue sports. In the event of a canceled season, which would leave schools without both media rights and ticket sales revenues, it could get very ugly.

So don't believe Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who says there is "zero chance" the football season won't be played, or Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who wants his players to report next week, or President Trump, who favors “re-opening” by May 1 and envisions 110,000 people at Alabama games this fall, something not even favored by Nick Saban.

The decision won't be made by coaches or the White House, but by college presidents and state governors who will listen to the scientists. And right now, their projections are decidedly pessimistic.

Last week Vice President Mike Pence got the message on a conference call with College Football Playoff officials. What Trump heard from Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the former Stanford Athletic Director, was that college sports are “education-based programs” and that there will be no sports until students are back on campus, able to attend games, and “we have something close to normal college going on.”

The odds of that happening by August slim.

Too Much Walton: Last week Pac-12 Hotline and Bay Area News Group reporter Jon Wilner, suggested moving basketball analyst Bill Walton into the football booth to lend “context and humanity” to the proceedings.

Wilner is a very smart guy, but that’s the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time. To this viewer, Walton is simply insufferable. He talks about the Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt, his favorite restaurants and shills for the Pac-12, all the while ignoring the game going on.

Like thousands of other hoops fans, I turn off the sound when Walton is doing a Pac-12 basketball game. He was a great player and knows basketball, but his knowledge and insight get lost in the endless drivel.

Football on the other hand, is a sport Walton doesn’t know well, and the games are nearly twice as long as basketball. One can only imagine his incessant, irrelevant, cringe-inducing chatter if there were three-and-a-half hours to fill.

Over-reaction: Prep hoops phenom Jalen Green from Napa last week announced he was foregoing a year of college to play in the NBA’s G League. Immediately, several media types proclaimed this was the beginning of the end for college basketball.

We beg to differ. Green was always going to be a “one and done” player, anyway. He’s better off getting paid $500,000 to prepare for life in the NBA than to participate in the sham of going to a college, pretending he was interested in academics, and attending a few classes (basket weaving, anyone?) for one semester before bolting to the NBA.

In the next few years, it’s likely the NBA will permit players to sign straight out of high school. In the meantime, if a half dozen top high school prospects sign up for the G League each season, so be it.

It won’t kill college basketball. In fact, it’ll eliminate some of the hypocrisy. And if the non-G League types stick around longer, it will allow fans to develop more than a transitory relationship with players, which would be a very healthy development for the sport.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

bottom of page