When Yahoo Sports reached out to a dozen athletic directors and administrators on Wednesday about the potential return of football this fall, most pointed to the return of students to campus as a key harbinger.
“With school not in session, I don’t believe it is practical or proper to have intercollegiate athletics,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich told Yahoo Sports. “Much like we are experiencing on campus right now.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick predicted a “cascading of decisions” that will portend whether or not we see college football in the fall. He said that one of those has already happened at Notre Dame with the cancellation of commencement.
The next “mile markers,” according to Swarbrick, are if there will be summer school on campus and then whether or not there will be athletic and academic summer camps on campus. “These will come in a logical sequence and help inform the next one,” he said.
Swarbrick points out the mixed messages of telling students to stay home while asking athletes to come to campus. “It’d be very hard to do,” Swarbrick said. “There’s a liability. Some of the dynamics of the game being what they are. The nature of it is such that there’s significant risks.”
Despite the prospect of sacrificing ticket revenues that for some schools total around $50 million per football season, "there’s also little chance from a liability perspective that schools would invite tens of thousands of fans to crowd into a stadium when they’ve deemed it unsafe for the regular student population to return," writes Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby delivered a clear answer when asked if games could be played in the fall without students on campus. “No,” he said. “The participants are students.”
“Nothing quite matches the unique issues that are created by the activity being integrated into an academic institution,” Swarbrick said. “There’s nothing like it in other sports.”
With a new academic year still nearly five months away, there is time for the current normalcy of social distancing and community lockdowns to abate. Whether that's realistic remains to be seen. “We are planning on having a college football season this coming fall,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne told Yahoo Sports. “And we will adjust if and when it’s appropriate.”
“I think we will try everything possible to have a season,” West Virginia president Gordon Gee said. “College football may be the psychological antidote to the virus.”