By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Two months ago, the idea of playing two college football seasons during one calendar year would’ve been considered absurd, unreasonable and unimaginable, and you probably could think of a few other words to describe it.
But a lot has changed over the past six weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic and now the idea of playing two college football seasons during one calendar year is reportedly at least being considered.
The hope is that the Coronavirus will be contained enough by the fall so that the 2020 college football season can start on time, or close to on time, but that hope seems more fleeing with each passing day.
Another option would be to push the start of the 2020 season back two or three months and then play a shortened season during the winter.
But that also seems unreasonable due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the weather in the northern part of the country during the winter, and concerns about a second wave of the virus coming back during the colder months.
So people are desperately searching for answers, or scenarios, that might work in helping to save college football from a financial disaster, and pushing the start of the 2020 season to the late winter and spring of 2021 is one option that apparently is being considered.
“There’s a third scenario that’s gaining momentum and on the surface it might sound preposterous, but I think a lot of reasonable people feel it might be the most prudent course of action, and that’s football in the spring,” ESPN’s Chris Fowler said on a recently published video on Instagram. “Beginning at some point in February and into March, April and May, and maybe have the postseason in June, that would have be reshuffled a bit.
“It would be bizarre. It would wreak havoc on some other sports that time of year. But to avoid the financial disaster of having no football season in the academic year, I think it might be a fallback position.”
Of course, the financial aspect is huge in this case because losing just one college football season would be devastating to the economy and to schools throughout the country.
But what about the student-athletes who would be asked to play two seasons in less than 12 months, while also carrying a full academic load?
What kind of wear and tear would it have on their bodies, and on their minds?
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked that question on Wednesday while addressing the media during a chat on Zoom.
“I saw that concept floated out there and I think that’s the first question you have to ask if that in fact is the answer playing in February or March or whenever that starting time would be,” Ferentz said. First of all, how many games do you play? Do you go ahead and play the 12 or do you cut it back? That’s a question.
“And then the follow up is what’s it look like after that? And I think we’d have to be very careful there.”
From a physical standpoint, playing two seasons in less than 12 months could be done.
College football players are top-notch athletes and they receive quality medical care and support. So they could pull it off, playing two seasons in one year.
“I don’t know the answer,” Ferentz said. “Could you play 24 games in a calendar year? My guess is that you probably could. But let’s say if you did that, let’s say that’s the scenario that’s in front of you, it would dramatically alter what happens between the two periods.
“I don’t know how hard you could train, how hard you could practice. All of those things are on the board to be discussed. And that’s probably the most radical concept that would be out there. But it’s for sure a possibility I would imagine.”
Playing two seasons in one calendar year would eliminate spring practice for a second consecutive year because there would be nowhere to fit it in.
And then you have the NFL Draft to consider since it’s held in late April.
So many things would be impacted by playing games in the spring, but desperate times call for desperate solutions.
You could be certain that some student-athletes would use this is an opportunity to push the narrative that they should be paid for their likeness and brand.
And more power to them because the players would be sacrificing not only their bodies, but so much of their time while also meeting their academic demands.
Time is quickly running out on the chance for fall football, but it’s still too early to obsess on the what-if scenarios because the circumstances are fluid as we navigate through uncharted territory.
The biggest challenge is to find that right balance between the desire and need to make money and the need to protect the student-athletes.
Imagine how parents would feel if told that their sons were about to play up to two dozen games during one calendar year.
NFL players don’t even face that challenge.
Ferentz said it would take about eight weeks to get his players ready for a season, with the first four weeks focused almost exclusively on training and conditioning.
He was asked on Wednesday about trying to prepare in six weeks, but with just two weeks of practicing football.
“It’s really hard to expect your team to execute and play well if you haven’t had some quality practice time leading up to it,” Ferentz said. “The bottom line is the quality of play can be compromised a little bit with every cut that gets made.
“But we really need to be careful it doesn’t compromise the player, their well-being.”
That’s the challenge, trying to avoid financial disaster without putting the players in even more danger than what comes from playing a violent sport already.