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 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