What I’m Hearing: NCAA share great news for Spring athletes USA TODAY
Will college football be played in some form this fall? Don’t bet against it, says a member of the NCAA’s Division I football oversight committee.
“A lot of really smart people are planning and working on scenarios with that as the intended outcome,” said committee member Bret Gilliland, deputy commissioner of the Mountain West Conference. “I’m optimistic.
“Things that none of us even can imagine evolve every day, but I remain optimistic that we’re going to play. That’s the way I look at it.”
Gilliland, of Adel, Iowa, and a 1984 Iowa State graduate, emphasized that he wasn’t speaking for the committee, which met Thursday.
“I’m just giving you my opinions,” he said.
When college football starts again has been among the most-asked sports-related questions since the coronavirus has spread worldwide.
“I’ve seen opinions all across the board,” Gilliland said. “Everyone has an opinion. I'm optimistic we can get going again in the fall. From the perspective of the committee, a lot of really smart folks are planning and developing scenarios for that to take place.”
... With or without fans.
“That decision will have to end up being within the context of federal and state guidance,” Gilliland said. “That, and what’s the status of your campus?
“We need to put infrastructure in place to do whatever’s necessary, first and foremost, for participants and fans, as well.”
Not allowing fans into at least early-season games is a sobering thought, but potentially realistic.
“It's hard to imagine looking up into a grandstand and seeing people sitting 6 feet apart," Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said on an hour-long teleconference last month. “This is a new day. (When football starts) will be dictated by circumstances and once those circumstances are known.
"I suppose it's possible we could return to some form of competition before we go to public assembly. We could return to playing in front of no crowd. It’s hard to forecast those things.”
Spring sports throughout the nation were canceled. Campuses were closed, and remain closed.
College commissioners were adamant against starting football at closed campuses, during a teleconference recently with vice president Mike Pence.
“We made the point that we wanted to get back to having kids attending college and opening up our colleges and universities,” Bowlsby told The Associated Press. “Until that happened, we weren’t going to be having any sports.”
Gilliland agreed, and adds this:
“It’s interesting how the narrative has evolved a bit,” he said. “If there’s no students on campus, they're not going to have athletes on campus. (But) if campuses are gradually starting to open in some form, there might be some scenarios that (football players can return) with the right set of parameters.
“If campus is re-opened and phased in, there are possibilities.”
The topic came up at an April 1 Iowa Board of Regents meeting, in which president Mike Richards talked about “in-person classes, reopening of residence halls, food service and other campus services."
COVID-19 testing will be important, too, not only for athletes, but also students.
“From what I’m hearing and seeing from medical experts, it’s part of the infrastructure that we’re going to have to have on campus, if we start bringing folks back,” Gilliland said. “What’s the testing capability? What about social distancing, and the ability to sanitize as necessary to protect all the folks around the team?”
The oversight committee also is aware of a scenario during which the 2020 college football season could move to the spring of 2021.
“That would create another whole set of things to figure out,” Gilliland said. “First and foremost, we’re arm-in-arm with the medical professionals. The first thing you have to look at, is health and safety.
"One of the questions that’s been raised, is if you go to a spring season, you have to consider playing that many games in a calendar year, and what it means from a health standpoint.”
And what about differing state rules — where one state allows campuses to be open enough for official conditioning to start, while others might not?
“If your state and campus is open and your guys can be there, while other (states) aren’t? That will be very difficult to have uniformity,” Gilliland said. “Can you have uniformity? It becomes a conference discussion.
“All of this is a priority for the football committee. We agreed to pick up our cadence on this. We're going to probably get together at least weekly; typically, these are quarterly gatherings.”
As for when the season could start?
“It’s way too premature to even try to project that,” he said.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of six decades. Reach him at email@example.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.