- Two months ago, the Big Ten and Pac-12 called off their respective college football seasons due to concerns about COVID-19.
- On Saturday, with the COVID-19 pandemic reaching new highs in the United States, both conferences will begin their shortened seasons after going back on their original decision to cancel the year.
- It’s difficult to justify the 2020 college football season, but if it has to happen, it should conclude with an eight-team playoff.
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Just two months ago, the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced that they would not be taking part in the 2020 football season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic that is still tearing through the country.
It was a bold stance that turned out to be the correct one.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, it was impossible to justify sending student-athletes and staff across the country every week to play football games. While professional leagues have built-in protections thanks to their respective unions, which allowed the workers to help set the terms of the season that they would take part in, college football players had no such say in how their season would or would not proceed and what potential safety measures would be put in place.
The two conferences likely hoped that the remaining Power Five conferences would join them in a unified front, but instead, the SEC, Big 12, and ACC decided they’d push forward with the season, COVID-19 be damned.
College football moved forward with the 2020 season, and so far, it’s been a bit messy.
The 2020 college football season played amidst a pandemic has unsurprisingly produced mixed results.
Yes, there is college football on every Saturday, but games are also being canceled or postponed at a rate that surpasses anything the NFL or MLB seasons saw to start their year. Some think things are going better than others.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen called for the Gators to play in front of a packed house of 90,000 fans in early October. “I think if you look at what we’ve been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we’re a model of safety of what we’ve been doing during this time period,” Mullen said at the time.
Just days later, Mullen tested positive for COVID-19, and the outbreak within the Florida locker room has now seen 26 players test positive as well. The Gators game against LSU scheduled for last Saturday was postponed.
Florida is just one of many schools that have dealt with at least one positive test already this year. Many schools were already dealing with outbreaks before the season even began.
Far from contained, the pandemic is moving towards a third peak.
The Pac-12 and Big Ten initially called off their seasons to put their students’ safety first.
“The health, safety, and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in the conference’s statement. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
Things change, though, and now, the season is a go, despite the outlook of the COVID-19 pandemic being far worse at this moment than when the conferences decided to cancel.
—Ryan Lawler (@ryanlawler) October 23, 2020
Right now, America is trending towards a third peak.
On Friday, the United States hit a record-high 77,640 new cases of COVID-19 recorded.
On Saturday, the Big Ten, Pac-12, and several other Group of Five conferences will start their seasons, COVID-19 be damned.
If we’re really going through with all of this, it’s time to expand to an eight-team playoff.
Regardless of whether it’s a good idea to play through a pandemic, the 2020 season is happening.
And if the 2020 season is happening, then it should end with an eight-team playoff.
Expanding the College Football Playoff has been discussed in the past. Still, this year more than any, it’s a necessary adjustment to make if such a chaotic season will produce anything close to a real champion.
The Power Five conferences are playing schedules that are essentially entirely intra-conference, meaning there is no opportunity to compare resumes against common opponents with teams in different conferences. With a shortened season, there’s also a greater chance that multiple teams finish the year undefeated, meaning the playoff committee may be forced to pick between teams with unblemished records and leave one or several of them out of the race for the title.
The solution is a simple one: an eight-team playoff, with six guaranteed bids and two at-large bids up for grabs. The champion of each Power Five conference gets an automatic spot in the playoff and the highest-ranked Group of Five school at the end of the season. From there, the committee can select two more teams to make the playoff based on their resumes.
With conferences playing only against themselves, the conference title should be worth something this year more than any other. And if there was ever a year where a Group of Five school was going to compete with the big boys, it’s a 2020 season that has already proven unpredictable.
Positive test rates across the country are still rising. Despite the decisions of the Pac-12 and Big Ten to resume their shortened seasons starting on Saturday, there’s really not a great argument to be made for why we should be having a college football season right now.
But if we are going to have a 2020 college football season, it might as well have an eight-team playoff and a deserving champion.
COVID-19 be damned.