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2020 College Football Season Could Have an Asterisk

Could cancelled games taint a champion?

It goes without saying that we are living through some unprecedented times. In the past, there have been pandemics, wars, and tragedies that have disrupted human life, but never on this scale in the United States. One aspect of our daily lives that has been disrupted the most is the cancellation of sports. All spring college sports seasons were wiped away in early March. The NBA and NHL halted their seasons and both are trying their darnedest to wrap up the season in some version of a playoff. Meanwhile, the MLB squabbles over money and their return to the playing field while the days of spring slip away to summer.

It is highly likely that we will see these three professional sports return in some form this summer with the NBA and NHL going straight to a playoff, and MLB with an abbreviated season. However, “champions” of all three leagues for this year will likely have an unseen asterisk on their banner in the minds of most fans. Will college football have this same dilemma?

The optimist sees every FBS team back and playing full schedules. A more realistic view includes the possibility of some games being canceled. Talk of conference-only schedules has been bandied about. One big concern with condensed seasons is the uncharted decision process for the playoff committee which could produce a tainted champion.


The issue with college sports as opposed to a professional league is the division of philosophies. Though they all fall under the NCAA umbrella, each conference and for that matter each university operates differently from each other. In the autonomous NFL, every team follows the same rules top to bottom. At the college level, the SEC for example is not run the same way that the PAC 12 is. Each conference has their own referees, different TV deals, and even a few different rules for how they operate. Last month, the SEC and BIG XII voted to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts on campus by football and basketball players, effective June 1. The Pac-12 followed that announcement up with a June 15 begin date. The Big Ten and ACC have left the decision up to individual programs. Clemson and Louisville quickly announced they would start June 8 while others in their league pondered a bit more. Oklahoma is holding off until July 1. It just goes to show that each league and each school works at their own pace.

Currently, the NBA plans to move forward with a 22-team playoff with as many as 17 players allowed per team. To a larger extent, the NFL has 32 teams with 53-man rosters. Getting them going will be a bigger project. And then there is college football. The headcount here is 130 FBS teams (65 in the Power 5) with up to 105 players per program. That is a considerable number of warm bodies to corral - all operating under different set of guidelines.


Vanderbilt, which is a private school, has a residency requirement for all undergraduate students, meaning they must live in university housing. Seniors may apply for off-campus housing, but most seniors continue their fourth year of school in campus housing. The result is 94% on campus residency. By contrast, 83% of students at the University of Houston live off campus.

Notre Dame will welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 fall semester the week of Aug. 10. Baylor’s first day is still Aug. 24. Alabama is set for Aug. 19.

There are so many moving parts to getting the college football season going and getting every game played.


It is not unprecedented for FBS games to be wiped out. Just two seasons ago, Hurricane Florence forced the cancellations or postponements of several FBS games, as did Hurricanes Harvey and Irma the year before. Fortunately, many of those games were unimportant on a national level. Had any of those teams been in the running for a playoff spot and not been able to reschedule, a canceled game would have been a stumbling block to inclusion into the final four. If Alabama vs Southern Cal doesn’t happen and the Crimson Tide cannot find a comparable replacement, you can be sure there will be some “tsk-tsk” from the media and perhaps the CFP Committee.


While the Chancellor of the Cal State system hastily attempted to shut down the fall semester, programs under that umbrella like San Diego State are still planning to play football this fall. Embattled PAC-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is fighting for his job. Getting the entire PAC 12 on board for this fall is his top priority and would be a nice feather in his cap. Administrators around the country are trying to be optimistic. The likeliest reason for their enthusiasm is that schools cannot afford to have enrollment ($) drop. Even if plans change in the fall, for now they need students at least planning to enroll in the fall and write those big fat checks.


In today’s climate, all it takes for the season to go down the drain is something bad to happen to one student-athlete. Because of this fear, there will be some overly cautious programs. It should not be a surprise to see a few canceled games this fall. Could cancellations bring an asterisk along to those teams that don’t play a full 12-game season?

At the bare minimum, it might take around 50 Power 5 teams to make the season legit. Below is a hypothetical look at how the season might unfold for each Power 5 conference.

  • SEC - C’mon now. It’s the ESS-EE-SEE. They have GOT to have college football. If there is any hesitancy among the 14 member schools, they have not voiced as such. The only wild card is Vandy who is the only private institution in the league. They also have much less to lose than other member schools by nixing a game. In addition, they have a new and inexperienced AD. If for any reason the ‘Dores choose to not fully participate in the season, it would not effect the outcome of conference championship.
  • ACC (incl. Notre Dame) - Every team south of the nation’s capitol appears to be on board. Although the state of Pennsylvania was hit hard, much of the outbreak was in the east part of the state. Pitt should have no problems. New York City was hammered but the college town of Syracuse fared pretty well. Boston College, however, might be a problem.
  • BIG XII - Oddly enough, the biggest worrywart is the coach of the defending conference champion. Sooners head man Lincoln Riley has voiced some concern but it would be hard to imagine he has the clout to overrule the movers and shakers in that state and not play a full 12 game slate while the rest of the league does. It might be thought that the Mid-Atlantic West Virginia Mountaineers would be a bit skittish, but their state has been one of the least affected states with only 2,341 cases and 88 deaths to date. Fortunately for this conference, most of the programs reside in small college towns.
  • BIG TEN - For a football-crazy conference, the B1G have been mighty quiet about their intentions. Most of these schools are in cold weather parts of the country and several have close proximities to large populations. Ohio State is in the state capital of Columbus. Minnesota is in Minneapolis. Maryland is 10 miles to the center of Washington DC. Northwestern is north of Chicago. And of course there is Rutgers amidst the epicenter of the NY/NJ hot zone. On the flip side, Wisconsin has actually had less C19 deaths than Alabama. Penn State is in the middle of nowhere. Nebraska and Iowa are also pretty isolated. OSU not playing a full schedule would be shocking. All that said, don’t be surprised if a few games from this conference are not played as scheduled. The real shame would be seeing an expunging of Michigan at Washington on Sept. 5.
  • PAC 12 - This conference might have a civil war on their hands. The two Oregon schools, two Arizona schools, Wazzu, and Utah are ready to play. The four programs in California plus U. of Washington (Seattle) are dragging their heels. If there is a loss of games, it will most likely come out of this league. Deciding a champ could be messy. Imagine Oregon finishes 7-2 in the conference play but UW is 6-1 because they played two less games.


Would an abbreviated season be cause for an "asterisk"?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    No, a champ is a champ.
    (255 votes)
  • 24%
    10 games should be enough.
    (118 votes)
  • 7%
    11 games are enough.
    (34 votes)
  • 14%
    12 games or it’s an asterisk on the trophy.
    (67 votes)
474 votes total Vote Now