Maybe people are making more of this than they should. Maybe college football people are just looking for some sort of starting point. However you want to parse comments made by ESPN’s college football announcer Chris Fowler on the sport’s potential return next spring is up to you.
Hopeful? Realistic? What about playing in front of empty stadiums? All scenarios are in play. Time will serve as the edit function here. Obviously, the longer the COVID-19 pandemic affects society, the greater the possibility college football is going to be affected.
“If the answer is playing in February or March, the first question is how many games do you play? Do you play the 12 or do you cut it back?” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said via conference call Wednesday. “What’s it look like after that? I think we’d have to be very careful there.”
Ferentz followed that up with this question, “Can you play 24 games in a calendar year?” He thought maybe yes, but it would dramatically alter the training that would happen between seasons.
Ferentz called the February plan the “most radical concept out there, but it’s not out of the possibility.”
But if you want to work off a wish list, Ferentz said playing an entire season this year would be preferred. Playing through Christmas could be a possibility (most Power 5 teams are preparing for bowls in December).
“I think anything they could do to play this fall would be most advantageous,” Ferentz said. “You get into spring and then it’s how it’s going to work from there. It’s a really complex equation. Before you start burning too many brain cells on that, let’s allow things to play out a little longer here and see where it all goes.”
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In Wednesday’s round of COVID-19 interviews, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert and one of the faces of the United States’ fight against the coronavirus, says the only way professional sports will happen this summer is by holding events without fans in attendance and by keeping players in hotels.
This idea has been floated for Major League Baseball. The players would live in hotels and would be constantly monitored for the virus. Everyone involved basically would be sequestered for the duration.
“Nobody comes to the stadium,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview with Snapchat. Put (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. ... Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
Remember, there’s a pretty big difference between professional athletes and college athletes. Pros get paid. It’s their job and livelihood. College athletes get free school. During the summer, they get room and board if their sport requires them to be on campus.
Ferentz talked about how the NFL was able to return after work stoppages. He used past Hawkeye Desmond King, now an All-Pro with the Los Angeles Chargers, and Iowa sophomore cornerback D.J. Johnson to illustrate the different worlds.
“Pro athletes are a lot more mature,” Ferentz said. “Their skill sets are a lot more accomplished. We all may have a few guys who have those qualities, but most of our guys in college football are climbing the ladder.
“We have to be careful comparing a guy who’s 20 years old with a guy who might be 26, who’s a four- or five-year veteran. Desmond King, for instance, and D.J. Johnson. Big difference on where they’re at right now. It’s realistic to say, ‘We can get Desmond King ready in four weeks.' D.J., I’m not so sure. That’s not realistic. When we start making comparisons, we have to be careful. That has trickled into some of the conversations (on returning) that I’ve witnessed. There’s a lot of differentiation between levels that we all have to be aware of.”
Ferentz was asked if Dr. Fauci’s MLB idea could work for college football. Ferentz brought up having games without fans.
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“The overriding theme is no matter what happens, chances are it’s not going to be our typical mode,” Ferentz said. “Even if they came out and said ‘Back to normal,’ just because of what’s happened already, it’s going to be very, very different.
“Those are all things that will be answered as we move down the road. You think about a perfect scenario, let’s say we were able to get back in June,” Ferentz said. “It’s still going to be different. I would assume there would be provisions regarding face-to-face meetings with our players while they’re in a training period. Hopeful that’ll happen, but again this is unprecedented. I think there will be some mix and match, some things from the past to explore and talk about as we move along and find out more about the landscape maybe we’re presented with.”
As far as what’s currently known in college football: The Hawkeyes would’ve been in week 4 of spring practice. Ferentz said recruiting has changed dramatically. Iowa plays host to a ton of visitors in the spring. Beyond spring visits, Iowa assistants would’ve hit the road for four or five weeks. College football has been in a recruiting dead period (no live contact) since quarantines started falling into place.
“What remains prominent is what was prominent to us four weeks ago,” said Ferentz, who also checks with players to make sure the online classes work for them. “We’re just really focused on our guys getting into a routine, getting to where they need to be. That they’re sleeping well, eating well and that they’re training as much as possible, knowing that all of them have different challenges in front of them from that standpoint.”
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