The 2020 Football Season? Manage Your Expectations

Unless something drastically changes in the next 60 days, the 2020 UH football season will be modified or won’t take place at all. Conferences and athletics directors, along with their TV partners, are expecting to make decisions on the season by June 1.

One of the major problems is that ADs and commissioners do not have much more information than they did three weeks ago when conference tournaments and March Madness were canceled. The only info they do have is heartbreaking: on the morning that the AAC Tournament was canceled, 38 people had died from COVID-19. Last night, the U.S. went over 5,000 deaths and will hit 6,000 likely by Thursday evening.

That said, athletics departments like UH continue to work, keeping players focused on school and game-planning for life after the coronavirus. UH coaches are meeting today (April 2) to discuss practice schedules and contingencies. And every athletics director in the country is working through what-if scenarios. The most likely what-if scenarios, as previously discussed elsewhere, include:

  • What if the season is cancelled?
  • What if fans are prohibited inside stadiums?
  • What if the season is pushed back to start in October or November?
  • What if there are no bowls?

Another option, just starting to gain steam among ADs and conferences, is playing a spring 2021 football schedule. The idea presents its own host of challenges but some ADs believe it is a safe and workable alternative. The XFL season even though cut short, proved that spring football can be successful.

What no one wants is to cancel the season. The repercussions of that would be crippling: lost ticket sales, donations, TV and radio contracts, and massive furloughs in athletics departments and in stadiums/facilities all over the NCAA. And while it would have minimal impact on Houston, canceling the season would crush small college towns that depend on those Saturdays in the fall.

For some G5 and FCS programs, canceling the season would permanently hurt or even destroy them. In almost every scenario being considered, I believe some FBS football programs will have to cancel their season or drop down to FCS.

On Wednesday, I spoke at length with an associate AD from another G5 school (not in the AAC). He says his school’s athletics executive council is spending “way too much time” in their zoom meetings on the decisions that must be made when football season is curtailed or canceled. He doesn’t hold out much hope for the season to be played as it normally would.

If football is canceled for 2020 or pushed to spring 2021, it won’t affect just that one sport. Some Olympic sports would have to alter their season, too. Volleyball and soccer, played concurrently with football, would lose their year or have it pushed to the spring. I believe men’s and women’s cross country would be canceled for the 2020 season in that scenario as many coaches and athletes would move on to indoor track & field. And it’s possible that other sports are reduced or not played for a year to reduce costs.

One of the options the associate AD suggested for Olympic sports was canceling conference schedules and having teams just compete against other schools that teams could bus to and back. In his words, “no flights.” In this scenario, which has been discussed but is not close to implementation, the league would then hold a conference tournament to determine a champion and for the auto-qualifier into the respective NCAA Tournaments.

Those decisions would be made well into the future and would be the extreme fallout from canceling football this season.

Beyond athletics, universities are struggling with this quarantine and UH is in the same boat. The uncertainty of what next year will look like is impacting budgets, hiring, long-range planning, fundraising, construction, commencement, and the school’s first medical school class, scheduled to enroll in July.