The coronavirus pandemic has ground college football to a halt as most teams were getting started with spring practices, disrupting the normal flow of the offseason and creating a domino effect of scheduling issues across the Bowl Subdivision.
Spring games have been canceled. Practices are tabled for the spring, with the possibility of rolling them back into team schedules during this summer. Recruiting issues that have already arisen will trickle through the next four months, if not longer.
And most of all, it's impossible to say with any certainty, given the current landscape across the country, that the 2020 college football season will move ahead as planned.
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams runs through a drill during Notre Dame's first spring football practice at the Irish Athletics Center. (Photo: Santiago Flores, South Bend Tribune)
As of now, here's what we know about what's happening in college football:
One of the last remaining holdouts, Oklahoma, said on Wednesday that "it would be virtually impossible to hold the game on the originally scheduled date since we're not sure when or if we'll be able to return to practice," according to a statement from athletics director Joe Castiglione.
The Sooners join the long list of perceived championship contenders who have closed down plans for the annual spring game, which is a vital tool for programs that use the event to draw prospects on campus earlier in each year's recruiting cycle.
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In terms of recruiting, spring games have become even more important with recent NCAA rule changes that allow teams to use their allotment of 56 official visits outside of the regular season, with the calendar flipping over on April 1. This has become especially useful to programs located outside of regions with a strong recruiting base.
It's very unlikely that the spring games themselves would be rescheduled, especially given that many universities have already decided to remain closed through the end of the spring semester.
Many FBS conferences, including the ACC and SEC, have already shut down all competition, including practices, through the end of the spring season. Another major conference, the Big Ten, has placed a restriction on team activities until April 6, when the league will revisit the calendar.
Unlike the spring games themselves, which are used more as a recruiting showpiece, spring drills play a vital role in installing schemes, implementing new playbooks, identifying new starters and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a roster. Each FBS team is given up to 15 on-field practices to conduct during the spring.
"It’s such a huge part of player development, preparing for the season and where we’re at as a young program," Kent State coach Sean Lewis told USA TODAY Sports. "These practices are crucial for us."
They take on an even greater importance for first-year coaches such as Boston College's Jeff Hafley, who said that the five practices he was able to conduct before events were canceled on campus allowed the new staff to begin developing a new culture but little in the way of Xs and Os.
"I believe we did get that part accomplished," he said. "Do I wish we had more time to get into the playbook and situational football? I do. But we got cut off."
Again unlike spring games, however, the practices left on the table can be salvaged based on when student-athletes are able to return to campus. Should student-athletes return to campuses by early June, teams could elect to hold the remaining number of available practices — Boston College has 10, for instance — or choose to roll those practices into the start of fall camp.
"We’re so new and have so much to do before training camp," Hafley said. "I don’t want to be in such a hole. I’d love it if the NCAA gave us a little more time."
The NCAA declared last week a moratorium on all recruiting activities, called a "dead period," until April 15. The suspension of activities both on campus and off comes during what is typically among the busiest times of the recruiting calendar across the FBS.
Prior to the cancellation, teams were in the "quiet period," during which time coaches could only speak to prospects on campus and could not perform any off-campus evaluations. This period, which was to run until April 15, was scheduled to be followed by the "evaluation period," when coaching staffs could meet with recruits off campus and conduct in-person evaluations through the end of May.
The long-term impact is impossible to project — teams also use this time to evaluate recruits in future classes, for example, while the lack of in-person contact with coaches could possibly lead recruits to lean more toward schools in closer proximity rather than taking trips to see programs outside their geographic footprint.
There could be a remedy. One possibility is to flip the recruiting calendar. As originally planned, a second FBS quiet period was scheduled for June 1-21 and again from July 25-31. In between, recruiting was set to enter a dead period from June 22 through July 24. If enough normalcy returns to college campuses, the NCAA could implement some variation on the recruiting schedules for March, April and May across June and July.
Expectations for 2020 season
There have been no definitive statements in either direction about college football in September, though conference commissioners are optimistic that the 2020 season will go ahead as scheduled.
"I’m a half-full perspective person, so I have optimism," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. "We have taken measures as have our colleague conferences, at this time, I think that if I read those health leaders, we’re going to have a period of time to see what happens with the growth of these cases and we’ll make decisions down the road."
It's important to note that some sort of postponement, perhaps until deeper into October or longer, if not an outright cancellation of the season is in play for all fall sports, including football.
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