College football is still reeling from Tuesday’s announcement from the Big Ten, the first Power Five conference to pull the plug on its fall sports season amid the coronavirus (the Pac-12 followed suit hours later). Several coaches including Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin were critical of the conference scrapping its fall football schedule, though Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren argued that the decision, while difficult, was done to preserve the health and safety of both coaches and student athletes.
So where does the Big Ten go from here? Momentum seems to be building toward a spring football campaign, though that would pose logistical challenges for players eyeing lucrative NFL careers. In the event of a spring football season, the NFL would undoubtedly be forced to alter its league calendar to accommodate the class of 2021. Unfortunately, the league doesn’t offer a ton of leeway in that respect. Per the collective bargaining agreement (which has already been amended once to address COVID concerns), the NFL can stage its draft no later than June 2. That would obviously be much later than usual (the 2020 Draft took place April 23-25), but maybe not late enough for incoming rookies, depending on when the Big Ten decides to hold its season.
As you might expect, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day had plenty to say on the matter, sharing his thoughts in Wednesday’s media availability. Day, who fell to 16-1 as head coach following the Buckeyes’ loss to Clemson in January’s College Football semifinals, wants football to return as soon as possible. In fact, the 41-year-old is advocating for an unprecedented winter football season.
While Day’s proposal would offer certain benefits—outgoing players should have enough time to prepare for the draft, or whatever else awaits them after college football, with a January start date—it ignores other factors like weather (Ann Arbor and Madison don’t offer the most inviting winter climates) and the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID (who knows if we’ll have a vaccine by then). Day is understandably wary of losing Heisman candidate Justin Fields to the NFL Draft. Many draft-eligible talents have opted out of bowl games in recent years to avoid injury and though Fields fits the profile of a player who’d pursue that path, an accelerated start date could improve Day’s chances of keeping the 21-year-old in Columbus, at least for another few months.
Tuesday’s announcement by the Big Ten seemed pretty definitive, though Day is still holding out hope for a fall football slate, as small a possibility as that may be.
Like all of us, Day sounds like a man who desperately misses college football. Unfortunately, as the NCAA and other governing bodies have discovered, there are no easy solutions when it comes to navigating a colossal, unrelenting global health crisis.