While I remain optimistic about the state of professional sports in the United States this Fall, I can’t help but grow increasingly pessimistic about collegiate sports, and perhaps that’s fair. Universities are not nearly as well-equipped to provide the necessary safety for their players to conduct their season as a professional league such as the NFL.
Earlier this week, the Ivy League announced that it would not be carrying out Fall sports this year, though the decision remained open as to whether it would be delayed to the Spring, and the state of Winter and Spring sports was reserved for a later date.
More recently, the Big Ten conference announced that its 2020 season would adopt a conference-only schedule, meaning that only teams playing within the conference would play against one another. I expect that a number of other conferences will take a similar approach, because it allows them some control over their sphere of influence, particularly with regard to testing.
“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority”, statement from the conference read, via ESPN.
It went on to emphasis that playing an entirely intra-conference schedule “will have the greatest flexibility to adjust [the conference’s] own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and fluid nature of the pandemic”.
Additionally, intra-conference schedules also allow these groups to be region-bound, which limits travel and, at least to some degree, reduces the likelihood of teams traveling to wildly different regions in terms of how they are being affected by Covid-19.
As the ESPN article mentions, the Big Ten is the first of the power five conferences to make a significant move in this regard, though virtually all of the others have essentially reserved the right to take a similar course of action in the near future. The ACC, for example, has postponed fall sports until the start of September.
These matters concern the NFL, since the league is almost exclusively made up of players who move through the college ranks, and they will be looking to add hundreds of new players in the 2021 NFL Draft and college free agency.
Despite this, in the event that several prominent conferences postpone their seasons to the Spring, the NFL is reportedly not, as of yet, entertaining the possibility of delaying its next draft. In theory, of course, players can still be drafted even while they’re playing, but in order for that to work, special measures would have to be taken to allow it, which may include allowing players to rescind their draft declaration.