At its highest levels, in the Power Five conferences, college football has always been part cartel, part "Game of Thrones." On the one hand, these five conferences have managed to hoard most of the power and TV money the sport claims, and on the other hand, one conference will gladly raid another to bring over one or more of their schools for a realignment buck.
It's a dynamic that would be truly fascinating, if it weren't so infuriating in times like these. The dysfunction of these relationships has been on full display over the last few days, as college football at the Power Five level teeters on the brink of cancellation for the 2020 season. You want dysfunction? Consider this — last Wednesday, the Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to announce its 2020 football schedule. Five days later, they decided to cancel their 2020 season and pay lip service to moving it to spring of 2021.
This, despite the protestations of several of the coaches, including Michigan's Jim Harbaugh:
Statement from Jim Harbaugh. pic.twitter.com/CftMW7d5lC— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) August 10, 2020
Nebraska's Scott Frost actually insisted his team would play this season, saying they'd go find teams to play. Ohio State reportedly wants to look into playing in the SEC. It's just an absolutely bizarre time for the sport, punctuated by the president weighing in on Monday afternoon (which essentially assures this topic of "lightning rod" status for the foreseeable future):
Play College Football!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2020
So where is this all going? Well, there's a few answers:
Players everywhere, by and large, want to play
The #WeWantToPlay movement was started on Sunday afternoon by, of all people, the one player who has the most to lose by getting injured (or a bad case of the coronavirus), future number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence, quarterback of Clemson.
Thousands of other players have climbed aboard, showing a major desire to compete, but a resolve to do so under proper working conditions. Nothing has been put forth by these players asking for monetary compensation (aside from a small group of Pac-12 players who threatened a boycott a week or so ago). So it should be clear, no schools or coaches are trying to force players to do something against their will. These guys want to play.
The SEC, ACC, and Big XII remain in the mix to play this season
The SEC and the ACC both appear steadfast in wanting to play football, with leaders from several schools (including Texas A&M) advocating playing football beginning in late September. The Big XII, the last of the Power Five conferences to announce their 2020 plans last week, was reportedly on the fence about playing the season, but announced on Tuesday night that they are still planning to move ahead with the schedule intact.
What about the University of Houston?
Good question. While the Power Five is wrapped up in conflicting views of the pandemic, all is quiet on the American Athletic Conference front. This whole cancellation trend began on Saturday with the Mid American Conference postponing its season until the spring, and the Mountain West did the same thing yesterday. That's two of the Group of Five conferences (the level below the Power Five). Right now, Conference USA (which includes Rice) plans to play, and the American hasn't confirmed one way or the other. I do think that if there are mass cancellations of seasons at the Power Five level, the remaining Group of Five conferences could be sitting on the cusp of a real opportunity for attention and recruiting buzz, if they have the stomach to play amid the presence of COVID-19.
The cancellation of the season by all conferences could be the NFL's gain
If ultimately there is no college football at all in the fall, that means that Saturdays will have a gigantic broadcasting cavern where college football once stood, a cavern easily filled by about three or four NFL games every Saturday. That's right, the consensus seems to be that, if college football is shut down for 2020, the NFL would be ready to swoop in and take over Saturdays, to go with Sundays. This would be no small development, as it would give the NFL a chance to backfill the ticket revenue lost with empty stadiums this fall. For a Texans team looking to sign Deshaun Watson to a massive extension, this would not be the worst news.