MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Now that the Big Ten and Pacific 12 conferences have punted on football in the fall, it remains to be seen what will become of the 2020 season.
While two of the Power 5 conferences sit out the fall with an eye toward the spring, the remaining three from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference are all moving ahead with fall football, placing the College Football Playoff in a precarious position.
Does the College Football Playoff, which culminates this season in South Florida, move ahead as planned with crowning a champion, or does it shift to the spring?
If it moves, does the entire bowl structure move with it? If the four-team playoff stays put, what does that mean for bowls with conference tie-ins?
"It's too soon to say what the implications will be," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said. "We will wait for guidance from the CFP board and management committee."
To get a sense of which way those entities may lean, one must first understand the DNA of each.
The CFP board of managers "develops, reviews and approves annual budgets, policies and operating guidelines," the CFP explains on its website. "It also appoints and removes officers of the company. It has authority over all aspects of the company's operations."
It consists of 11 university presidents and chancellors representing each of the FBS conferences, as well as Notre Dame.
Among them are former Florida State University President Eric Barron, now at Penn State, and current FSU President John Thrasher, who succeeded Barron.
Before leaving for Penn State, Barron was president at FSU during the transition from longtime head coach Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher, who has since moved on to Texas A&M.
In the last decade, Barron has had to endure more football-related concerns than most college presidents, including rape allegations involving star quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and how to honor the legacy of the late Joe Paterno, another longtime coach whose professional accolades were overshadowed at the twilight of his career by the sexual abuse scandal within the football program that led to his ouster.
Assuming the board members are aligned with their conferences (and that's a big if in the Big Ten, where administrators at schools like Ohio State and Nebraska publicly expressed their displeasure with the postponement of fall football), Barron and Thrasher would be on opposite ends of the debate. While Barron would likely advocate to delay the CFP, Thrasher most likely would favor maintaining the bowl schedules.
Whereas Barron's background is steeped in academia, Thrasher is more politically polished. When Thrasher took over in 2014, the Republican former Florida House speaker joined the ranks of politicians-turned-college presidents.
Thrasher, who helped elevate FSU's academic stature (jumping from No. 26 to No. 18 in last year's U.S. News & World Report rankings of public universities) after its designation as a preeminent university by the state legislature under Barron's leadership in 2013, was intricately involved in the hiring (and firing) of Willie Taggart, as well as new head coach Mike Norvell. Thrasher's relationship with athletic director David Coburn is strong, and he has already postured his alma mater's position by attending a news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Coburn, Norvell and two players in support of a fall season.
As for the other board members, it would seem Rodney Bennett (Southern Mississippi), Gordon Gee (West Virginia), Jack Hawkins (Troy), Mark Keenum (Mississippi State), who chairs the board, R. Gerald Turner (SMU) and the Rev. John Jenkins (Notre Dame) would support crowning a champion in the fall. That would leave Joe Castro (Fresno State), Kirk Schultz (Washington State) and Satish Tripathi (Buffalo) as the odd men out.
The CFP management committee, meanwhile, made up of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, oversees "the day-to-day operations of the company. It has authority over those aspects of the company's operations that are not reserved exclusively for the board, but all of its decisions are subject to review by the board."
Presumably, Mike Aresco (American Athletic Conference), Bob Bowlsby (Big 12), Keith Gill (Sun Belt Conference), Judy MacLeod (Conference USA), Greg Sankey (SEC), Swarbrick and John Swofford (ACC), who will soon be retiring, would favor, if it were to come to a vote, the customary bowl season and current CFP schedules.
Larry Scott (Pac-12), Jon Steinbrecher (Mid-American Conference), Craig Thompson (Mountain West Conference) and Kevin Warren (Big Ten), who took over last year, would likely cast dissenting votes. The MAC and Mountain West have also postponed fall sports with the intent to play in the spring.
But spring football comes with its own set of questions. Much like there are risks associated with playing in the fall during a pandemic, are there health concerns about student-athletes playing what essentially amounts to two seasons in a single calendar year? Would a spring season be condensed, with fewer games and limited to intraconference competition?
If the NFL doesn't deviate from its typical offseason calendar, the scouting combine would take place in February, almost certainly impacting the participation of draft-eligible players. Would they even take part in a spring season?
There is also the January declaration deadline for early entrants in the NFL Draft that must be considered. Would that date be adjusted to accommodate a spring season?
Perhaps the decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 to delay football were made easier by the fact that the traditional Rose Bowl pairings wouldn't have necessarily taken place this season anyways, since the "Granddaddy of Them All" is slated to be a CFP semifinal game.
In years when the Rose Bowl is a playoff site, the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12, or a substitute team if the champions make the playoff, would be assigned to one of the other New Year's Six bowls. This season, that would be the Cotton, Orange, Peach or Fiesta bowls.
If the New Year's Six bowls are played as scheduled, there will be vacancies to fill in the absence of a Big Ten or Pac-12 team. Does that open the door for a Group of Six conference like the AAC, or would those spots be filled by an at-large team?
For South Florida, the larger question concerns the fate of the Orange Bowl, home of the ACC champion, and the subsequent CFP National Championship. As of now, both games remain scheduled for Jan. 2 and Jan. 11, respectively, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
"Since the pandemic first adversely impacted collegiate sports in early March, we have been in constant communication with our conference partners and the College Football Playoff regarding both the 87th Capital One Orange Bowl and the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship," Orange Bowl Committee Chief Executive Officer Eric Poms said in a statement. "It has been and continues to be a fluid situation, and even with (last week's) announcements there remain a number of unknown variables as to what effect it will have on both college football's regular season and subsequently its postseason for this year. We will stay in contact with college football leadership and continue to monitor the situation closely with community partners, including the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, as well as with civic leaders. Above all, we will maintain our firm commitment to our mission to drive tourism, provide quality entertainment for South Florida residents and to bring the community together and inspire our youth."