By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The challenge is easy to recognize, but meeting the challenge will be a daunting and unprecedented task.
With the Big Ten Conference having cancelled fall football due to concerns about the Coronavirus, league officials are now faced with trying to squeeze two seasons into one calendar year, which has never happened before.
It wouldn’t actually be two full 12-game regular seasons because that would be impractical under the circumstances. There just aren’t enough weeks and months in one calendar year to play 24 college football games, or even 20 for that matter.
It would be asking too much from the players from a physical standpoint, from an emotional standpoint and from a time-commitment standpoint to play 20 or more games in one calendar year.
So the next best thing is to figure a way to play the most games as possible in a safe and sensible fashion.
What makes it hard, though, is the uncertainty surrounding this highly contagious and mysterious virus, combined with the certainty with the Midwestern winter weather.
The Big Ten is one of two Power 5 conferences that has cancelled fall football, the Pac-12 being the other.
The decision has been met with strong resistance from the parents of many Big Ten players, including more than 60 Iowa parents, with one of their biggest complaints being a lack of transparency throughout the decision-making process.
Some of the parents plan to hold a rally on Friday at the Big Ten office in suburban Chicago.
However, the Big Ten Conference shows no signs right now of reversing its decision.
The Big 12, the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference still plan to play this fall, but staying on that course won’t be easy.
As college students return to campuses across the nation, the concern is that the virus will continue to spread and be an ongoing health problem.
Michigan State just this week has suspended in-person learning for its entire fall semester, while Notre Dame has shifted to a fully remote model until at least Sept. 2.
North Carolina also has moved to online instruction in response to more than 130 new cases of the virus
It isn’t easy to give up on a college football season because it serves as the life force for every Power 5 program.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said in a recent letter to football season ticket holders, that due to the loss of fall football, he is anticipating lost revenue of approximately $100 million to the athletic department this year.
That would be a devastating blow, and in some cases, a crushing and life-changing blow.
So you should understand the importance of trying salvage something from the 2020 season, even it it has to occur in the 2021 calendar year.
Careers depend on it.
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has developed a detailed plan outlining how the conference can play a total of 18 regular-season games during a 10-month period and still protect the players from a health and safety standpoint with enough time to recover.
His plan seems reasonable and certainly deserves consideration.
But it was a proposal made by a recent caller to the HawkFanatic/KCJJ radio show and podcast that makes the most sense to me.
He suggested having the Big Ten team plays the other six teams in their division, and the winner of each division would meet for the Big Ten title.
The winner of the Big Ten championship game would then meet the winner of the Pac-12 championship game in the Rose Bowl.
All 14 of the Big Ten teams would play at least six conference games, while the division winners would play at least seven games overall.
It would be far from perfect, but perfection quit being an option months ago.
The weather would certainly create some problems unless games were played indoors, which is reportedly being discussed by the Big Ten.
But with a six-game regular-season schedule, games could start in early March and the season could be over by end end of April, or early May at the latest.
The season could also start in late February in order to assure that it would finish before the 2021 NFL Draft.
The weather would be far from ideal to start the season. But it would just be one season, and we’ve dealt with horrible weather conditions at the end of college football seasons in November for more than a century.
So we can do this.
But it has to be performed in a way that would allow enough time for the players to recover before starting to prepare for a 10- or-11-game schedule in the fall of 2021.
The hope is that a vaccine will soon be available, and that life will sort of be back to normal by the fall of 2021.
This plan could change if the circumstances change because there is no guarantee that the other three Power 5 conferences will play football this fall, or make it through a season.
Should they ultimately decide not to play, one nonconference game could be added to the six divisional games, and that would allow Iowa and Iowa State to meet in the spring.
Or a Big Ten crossover game could be added as a seventh game, but one of the bonuses of playing teams in the same division is that it would cut down on travel.
It would make more sense for Iowa to play Iowa State in the spring than for Iowa to play Rutgers or Maryland.
This challenge basically comes down to trying to play as many games as possible between January and April, or early May, without it having a major effect on the 2021 season.
It is beyond the point of hoping and thinking that there is a way to avoid losing a significant amount of money. The challenge now is to limit the damage financially.
And the only way to do that is to play games for the television revenue.
There is also the chance that a vaccine will be available next spring, allowing fans into games.
My preference would be to play games outside on the Big Ten campuses rather than inside at neutral NFL sites.
The advantage to playing inside is that the season could start much sooner in January, which would allow the players more time to recover and then prepare for the 2021 season.
But that, and no concerns about the weather, seem like the only advantages.
The Big Ten and the Pac-12 are in this fight together, so it would make sense to line them up for a spring showdown in Pasadena, like the gold old days.