This month the United States has been turned upside down by the rollout of several policies aimed to slow the spread of a highly lethal virus. The quick spread of the coronavirus has led to drastic measures being taken by legislatures at all levels across the nation. My home state of Texas has banned all social gatherings of more than 10 people, a number low enough to certainly prevent any type of athletic competition.
Nationally, the three conferences that Underdog Dynasty covers have all canceled spring competitions. With universities shuttered for the semester, football programs seem all but certain to be forced to skip spring practices this year. As more time passes and the virus spreads further across the country, it’s becoming more and more clear that this isn’t just a month-long postponement, but rather a monumental event that will affect college football in a major capacity moving forward.
While all programs will mostly face the same limitations, certain programs, coaches, and players will feel the pain more so than others.
It’s no secret that programs under the direction of first year coaches will suffer greatly from the loss of spring football this year. The spring practice period gives new coaches an opportunity to implement their playbook, start to build their desired culture, and evaluate the talent on their rosters. Coaches will take all the measures they can to try to teach their system virtually through the use of digital tools, but there’s no replacement for on-field teaching with cleats in the grass.
The loss of spring football is a huge boost to incumbent starters who may have had to fight off younger players for snaps through the 15 spring practice that the NCAA permits. Early-enrolled freshmen and junior college transfers will also be behind the learning curve heading into the fall, this is an especially big blow to freshmen quarterbacks who need to adjust to understanding a college offense. Recent years have proven that the early-enrollment trend has greatly boosted the level of play from freshmen quarterbacks but coronavirus should put a stop to that trend, at least for a year.
Generally speaking, teams that return plenty of experience from last year’s roster will have an even bigger leg up over the competition in the 2020 season than typical. Even if incoming/younger players are ready to hit the field this season, they have still lost the opportunity to build on-field chemistry with their teammates by learning each other’s tendencies.
At a broader scope, COVID-19 may further deflate already decreasing attendance numbers across college football. Even if the spread of the virus is under control by the fall, it’s highly unlikely that a vaccination will be anywhere near ready for public distribution. Considering that, how many fans will be leery of commingling in crowds north of 30,000 people, especially the booster class that typically resides in the high-risk demographic of age 65+?
Additionally, the financial impacts of quarantine procedures and the ensuing economic slowdown will likely lead to a serious decline in consumer spending. With the average college football gameday experience ballooning in price, how many families will choose to save their entertainment dollars for daily necessities in the case of an economic recession?
Of course everything I’ve written above has been from a fairly optimistic viewpoint. If social distancing does not work and folks continue to spread the virus among the public then we could see the college football season delayed or cancelled. I know it sounds hard to believe, but three weeks ago could you imagine March Madness being cancelled?
The more seriously we all take the threat of coronavirus, the quicker life will return to some type of normalcy, and that includes college football. Please stay safe out there, and take care of those around you. We all need to be thoughtful of those around us so that we can get healthy, get back to our routines, and get our alma maters back on the football field.