College football can still be saved in 2020, but it won’t be easy

For college football fans, the 2020 season is beginning to look pretty grim, but there’s still hope.

College football is in trouble this season. COVID-19 has provided the same beatdown to fall sports that it has to everything else in its path. With the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, MAC and several individual schools all throwing in the towel, there needs to be a plan if any football is to be played in 2020.

The first question is, should football be played at all? Honestly, it’s not a question the media or the fans should be answering. That question should simply be left to the people who would potentially be putting themselves in harm’s way if they take the field — the players.

Given the #WeWantToPlay movement, with all of its demands and caveats, it would seem that many players want to participate in playing football this year. While their dedication is admirable, it seems virtually impossible for a sport that absolutely requires physical contact and close quarters.

Given the uniqueness of this situation, it would seem that drastic, one-time-only measures would need to be taken in order to proceed with any semblance of a season. The NBA and NHL have provided the road map, and college football could use that as a way to get it done.

This would take massive coordination between the NCAA, FBS conference commissioners, school athletic directors, and head football coaches — something which is basically unprecedented in this sport, which is why this is a dicey possibility at best.

Get college football players and personnel in a bubble.

The idea of the bubble — a closely regulated space where players, coaches, and essential personnel only are allowed — seems to have worked for the NBA and NHL, and it’s not out of the question it could work for college football.

The question is, where to host such a bubble?

Somewhere that already has strict coronavirus protocols in place. Somewhere not easy to come and go. Somewhere with a lot of open space where various teams could workout and practice.

How about Hawai’i?

Per the Hawai’i Department of Health, here are the current requirements for entering the island state.

“All persons entering the State of Hawai‘i to self-quarantine for 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Hawai‘i, whichever is shorter. Upon arrival, residents are required to quarantine in a designated location in their residence. Visitors will quarantine in their hotel room, rented lodging or in a room if staying at a residence. Quarantined individuals may only leave their designated location for medical emergencies or to seek medical care.”

So you transport in all the players, staggered in groups, and have everyone set and completed with their 14-day quarantine by Sept 30.

Use empty hotels on the islands or dormitories on the University of Hawai’i campus to house the athletes and staff, with everyone being transported to practices or games on buses set aside strictly for this purpose. Local high schools who have opted not to have football this year could allow their fields to be used for practices and workouts.

All games could be played at Aloha Stadium, with a slate of games beginning early in the day and concluding that night.

Perfect? Probably not, but since the sport of football requires more physical space and time off between games than basketball or hockey, the utilization of a state such as Hawai’i would serve the purpose of creating a place limited enough for safety, as well as providing a boost to a tourist-based economy that has been decimated by the pandemic.

College football under the literal microscope.

In addition to the safety measures the State of Hawai’i has in place, there would obviously have to be additional protocols put in place to protect everyone involved, including the residents of the state.

Much like other sports leagues, players would have to agree to rigorous COVID-19 testing schedules and would have to agree to additional 14-day quarantines for any positive test results. The same would hold true for coaches and staff members.

All players, coaches, and staff would be under strict lockdown, only being able to socialize with each other in their given housing location. Travel outside of the housing location would be limited to emergencies only, and if a player is forced to leave Hawai’i for any reason they would be unable to return to the bubble.

Remote learning for all players would have to be available via their individual school, and class instruction time would have to be strictly enforced.

The schools would have to agree to pay for any medical care associated with exposure to the coronavirus, including treatment for COVID-19 and any additional medical care for continuing conditions that may occur after a player who tested positive recovers.

There could be no limitations on said medical care, meaning universities would have to foot the bill for anything minor or major that threatens the health of the player as a result of them joining in the 2020 season.

No player on any participating team could be compelled to play or travel to the bubble, and in the case of scholarship athletes, they would not lose financial aid or eligibility by choosing to opt-out of the season if their school participates.

Which college football teams could play?

In a year of global firsts, there’s no reason college football couldn’t join in the ranks of “we’ve never done that kind of thing before”. With the conferences basically split on playing or not playing, leading to heavy criticism coming from both directions, perhaps this should be left up to individual schools.

2020 would be the year of no conferences, no bowl season, and no College Football Playoff.

The invitation would be open to a limited number of FBS teams (based on the space that could be secured throughout Hawai’i), first-come, first-served. 24 teams with 70 players each maximum.

You want to play in the bubble, then there must be a unanimous vote of yes from your university president, athletic director, and head football coach — after consulting with their team to find out if they even want to be a part of the season.

If any of those three positions of power refuse to cast a vote of yes for their school, they will not be allowed to play.

This would ensure the voice of the student-athletes is heard and has been considered by those in charge. The trifecta of power would then convene and decide whether or not they want to take the risk of sending their team to the bubble.

Depending on how many teams end up in the bubble, it could be divided into two divisions, or if the number of teams is less than 15 total, just a single table.

A college football schedule like never before.

So you’ve now got a bunch of college football teams on the islands, how do you schedule play?

Under normal circumstances, college football games happen (for most schools) on either Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. No reason to change that up or to infringe upon the NFL should they be lucky enough to get their season underway.

Regular season games would begin on October 8 (one week after the deadline for ending the 14-day quarantine period) and would conclude on December 5, with the playoff and championship games being played on the weekends of December 11 and 19.

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays would be game days, and teams would rotate on which of those two days they play from week to week.

Thursday games: 4 pm, 8 pm
Friday games: 12 pm, 4 pm, 8 pm
Saturday games: 12 pm, 4 pm, 8 pm

That would mean 16 teams would have a game each week, with the remaining teams having an open date. Assuming you have a maximum of 24 teams in the bubble, this would give every team at least seven regular-season games and two bye weeks.

In the instance that there are enough teams for two divisions, teams would only play within their given division. The top two teams in each division would meet in the playoff (one on Friday the 11th, the other on Saturday the 12th), with those two winners advancing to the championship game on December 19

Should there only be enough teams for a single table, the top four teams would play (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3) in the playoff weekend, with those winners advancing to the championship game.

Every team would get an equal share of advertising revenue for the season, with a bonus given to the four playoff teams and the eventual champion.

Chances are slim college football could pull this off.

The truth is, this is a lot to ask in a very short amount of time left before planning and execution could begin. It would have to be swift and organized, something the NCAA or its member institutions are not particularly known for.

The biggest issue isn’t really making all of the above ideas happen in one form or another, but rather the lack of leadership in the sport.

Without someone who has the ability to herd cats and bring a splintered sport back together, an idea such as this could never be pulled off. It’s clear that NCAA President Mark Emmert isn’t the man, so a one-year College Football Commissioner would have to be appointed to get this season to happen.

It’s a safe bet that college football fans would be glad to see any kind of season happen, even if their school wasn’t necessarily involved. It could be done with a lot of work, concessions, and trust.

That really makes it a longshot.