College Athletics Begin Discussing Crowded Spring Season

As athletic departments struggle to plan for the 2020-2021 athletic season in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the virus spread among younger age groups, the prospect of a fall season appears particularly vexing for athletic departments, athletes, and even fans. One solution, now much more widely discussed than it was just a few weeks ago, is moving college fall sports to spring.

College football, the biggest moneymaker for Power 5 conferences (PAC-12, Big 12, Big 10, ACC, and SEC), is the primary driver of all college sports.  With a vaccine still many months away, this may be the only way to salvage a fall season that appears to be slipping away as athletic departments experience setback after setback.

How do you foresee the 2020-2021 college athletics season proceeding?

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How might this affect DU, though? For starters, men’s and women’s soccer usually start in mid-August and volleyball at the end of August with their seasons ending in December. If necessary, their seasons would have to be moved to the spring and shortened. Collegiate soccer was already considering a split fall and spring season, with conference play and championships in the spring. For Summit League men’s soccer (6 teams), the conference may elect to play five conference matches before a four-team qualifier tournament for an auto qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. Or they could play 10 home-and-away matches in the fall with the regular season winner as the league champion. For Summit League women’s soccer (9 teams), the Pioneers could play eight conference matches and then a four-team qualifier for the NCAA Tournament in the spring.

Denver volleyball usually starts play in late August and ends in December. The Summit League’s nine teams play 16 matches each, home and away. Volleyball would need to move their entire schedule to the spring and likely, only play conference games. If each team only met once in the regular season, that would be 8 matches, four home and four away. Then, the top four teams could play a Summit League weekend champion tournament. That would take two months to complete in a newly created fall timeframe.

Hockey could prove to be a different beast entirely as it straddles both the Fall and Winter seasons in a normal year. If the NCAA were to cancel nonconference matchups (Denver is currently scheduled to play 10 non-conference games), that would leave the remaining conference portions of schedules (24 games for each NCHC team). If the season is postponed until January, it’s perfectly reasonable for every conference to get their conference schedules completed over the course of three months and be done in March, right around when the season ends in a normal year. Heck, NCHC teams don’t generally play many nonconference games after the New Year anyway. In terms of any potential postseason, conferences currently have the option to name their regular season champion the NCAA auto-qualifier if they so choose which means they could reasonably cancel the postseason conference tournaments if needed and go straight into the NCAA Tournament and finish in April, similar to a normal season.

The Big 12 conference gymnastics challenges could easily be condensed to an already scheduled February and March timeframe and only lose two or three early-season non-conference competitions.

By eliminating all non-conference contests, each of the current fall sports could move to the spring and develop a shortened schedule to allow for a conference champion and NCAA Tournament representatives. Even with the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, it appears ever more likely there will be limited or no fan attendance allowed. Shortened schedules and less travel would provide a partial offset to ticket sales revenue.

There is still the dreaded nuclear option that none of us are hoping for but given how ineffective an alarming number of states have been at containing the virus (looking at you, Florida), athletic departments may be forced to pull the plug on all non-revenue fall sports. This is, of course, the bleakest option of all but it still remains very much in play.

Photo Courtesy of Denver Athletics

9 thoughts on “College Athletics Begin Discussing Crowded Spring Season”

  1. The bigger problem to me isn’t one of schedules and opponents as much as it is the medical realities and risks of playing sports in a pandemic, and the financial risks of not playing or playing without fans.

    I think if sports are even going to be played, it’s likely going to be in empty facilities.

    Playing in empty rinks, gyms and fields makes the games more distant, and clinical. Without the in-house crowds to feed the players, the games will lack the sense of drama and much of the emotional connection that gives them the greater sense of meaning that makes D-I sports normally so compelling.

  2. The other issue is vaccine availability. The most vulnerable people are likely to get the first round of treatments (elderly, underlying health issues) and college athletes are likely to be far down the list. Even if a vaccine is available in January, college athletes are not likely to be at the front of the line. This situation really sucks.

  3. It’s a total mess. So many scenarios, most are not too good. Boone is practicing perfect social distancing.

  4. I agree with Swami. A major allure of sports as entertainment is the ambiance of a large crowd cranking up the emotional volume. It’s a shared experience to enjoy a great game with some stranger next to you or watch the crowd roar on a last minute thriller. It’s just not nearly as interesting to watch a quiet empty venue with talented athletes… it doesn’t feel like it matters. Hands down the most entertaining games from any sport for me are those in which the crowd is thoroughly invested. It’s why I love watching SEC football or the Duke-UNC basketball games etc etc. Often I don’t care who wins a particular game but if their is some drama and rowdiness from the crowd it makes for amazing entertainment.

    Unfortunately I am also doubtful that we get much in the way of college athletics this fall. Certainly the non-revenue sports having a full season would surprise me, namely because the extent of the virus is variable across the US right now. Some states, like here in AZ, are shut down and I can’t envision women’s volleyball getting back up to speed. Likewise each state’s governor and universities all have to be on the same page. This is primarily what makes things doubtful for me. You’d have to get nearly all 50 states with similar guidelines in order to avoid major logistical snafus. Additionally, what happens when a player on a team inevitably gets COVID, with or without symptoms? Do you quarantine just that player? Or the entire team? What if its the star player who feels 99% but tests positive right before the NCAA tournament or championship? I just don’t see how they can fairly and uniformly address these issues.

    However, the driving force behind this is college football. There is an absurd amount of money to be lost if no season is had. I think the powers that be will do everything they can to recoup some revenue. That is the only thing pushing forward the potential of college athletics this fall, but more likely next spring.

    1. Not hating on women’s triathlon but I don’t understand why they would do this under these circumstances unless it’s a title IX thing

      1. It’s very likely two things – Title IX proportionality (DU is about 57% female, so as long as that number continues to climb, more proportional women need to be represented) and the grant from USA Triathlon. Without those two factors, I don’t see why DU would add it at this time. The other cheap women’s sports DU could add include Beach Volleyball, Bowling or Cross-Country. Of those, triathlon best fits the Colorado ethos/lifestyle.

  5. I have had some emails sent to me (I would be essential to the games) which indicate that hockey will be played this fall, but with no fans until at least January and, if allowed, something less than 50% capacity. Fans just aren’t essential to gameplay, it will be weird, but hockey without fans is better than no hockey…

  6. I envision more round robin type tournaments with local teams at one venue. DU, CC, and Air Force playing 3-4 games with strict segregation of fans. Temporary realignment of conferences is not out of the question too.

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