Effects of Delayed Start To 2020 Season: NCAAF Picks and Game Predictions

Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes with his team. Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP

What are the odds that college football begins on time? Well, that depends upon who you ask these days.

With so much conflicting information and outright lies about the pandemic being bandied about the past couple of months, it’s probably only natural for there to be mixed signals and muddled reports coming from the world of college football. One day, a university president is suggesting teams will begin practicing again on June 1, and the next day a regent at another school says he doesn’t expect campuses to even be reopened for the fall.

And the two who made those conflicting statements are at schools who reside in the same conference, so your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe a football coach can help clear things up. Nick Saban, whose Alabama Crimson Tide is 5/1 at Bovada to win a third National Championship in six seasons, was on The Paul Finebaum Show recently and said, “I think if we had four weeks in the summer, we could certainly get ready for fall camp.” If that’s true, teams could begin practicing in late-July and it wouldn’t disrupt the season starting on time.

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his players following a win against the Michigan Wolverines. Joe Robbins/Getty Images/AFP
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Hawkeyes, Gophers Differ on Resumption of Football

Iowa president Bruce Harreld is even more optimistic than that. Harreld told his state board of regents, “(But) right now, June 1 is the date we’re going to get back to practice and here we go.” The Hawkeyes are currently running 100/1 or higher on college football futures boards, a bit of a longshot as head coach Kirk Ferentz begins his 22nd season at Iowa.

Big Ten rival Minnesota doesn’t share Harreld’s optimism. Michael Hsu, a regent at Minnesota, was also on Finebaum’s radio show in the past week, and he isn’t even certain there will be any students on the Minneapolis campus when September rolls around. “I think the odds are we are not gonna’ be back to school in the fall, in person,” Hsu told Finebaum.

About the only consistency coming from college campuses and athletic departments right now is their shared concern for the health and safety of players and fans. The COVID-19 virus shuttered colleges around the time most students were either off on spring break, or just returning. Schools have worked around the academic part with on-line classes, but football pays a lot of bills. While everyone is saying the right things with the priority being on the health and well-being of all, you’re kidding yourself if you believe the subject of all the money a Saturday afternoon gridiron match brings in isn’t part of the discussion.

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Could Fans be in the Stands for Start of Season?

Football is big business at just about every level, from the pros down to the FBS and FCS, all the way to high school. While the teams competing at the FBS level do reap a nice check from television revenue, putting people in the seats represents a huge chunk of income, not to mention wages for stadium employees, vendors and dollars it adds to coffers for bars, hotels and restaurants around each campus.

Nearly 708,000 fans attended seven Crimson Tide home games last season, an average of 101,117 for each game at Bryant-Denny Stadium at a reported average of $249 per ticket. I’ll let you do the math, but suffice to say that helps pay the salaries of a lot of professors in Tuscaloosa.

If they can’t have stadiums filled to at least 20% capacity, there are going to be a lot of schools that will be reluctant to begin the schedule on time. That’s especially true for some of the smaller schools who play fodder to the big boys on the early slate, games like Abilene Christian at Texas A&M in Week 1 when the Wildcats are counting on a nice payday from the gate receipts. The Aggies are among several teams hoping to make a push into the College Football Playoffs, and currently running 25/1 at BetOnline.

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Will Luck O’ The Irish Hold Out for Opener in Dublin?

Back in the good ol’ days, a decision could be made to nix a couple of weeks in September and still allow for teams to get in their full conference slates. That’s no longer the case with conference games taking place from the beginning. There are also neutral site games like the Alabama-USC matchup for Week 1 in Arlington, TX, and it seems very unlikely that either the Tide or Trojans would want to travel to play in an empty stadium.

Another idea being tossed around includes not starting the season until October. Or November. Maybe not even until early-2021. That might sound absurd, but then, none of us imagined we’d be going grocery shopping with masks and disposable gloves.

The NCAA is still working on the assumption that games will begin on time. Among the first seven games taking place, what has become known as Week 0, is Notre Dame against Navy. That contest is scheduled to be played in Dublin, Ireland, which seems completely out of the question as things currently stand. Early college football odds have the Fighting Irish favored by more than two touchdowns. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick believes his team will play its full 12-game schedule at some point, and since the Irish have Touchdown Jesus on their side, I’ll believe him for now.