Item: The ACC Wednesday announced its schedule plan for the delayed 2020 season, 10 conference games plus one non-league matchup to be determined, and the inclusion of Notre Dame into the league standings for this season. The recommendations from the athletic directors to the league’s Board of Directors, chaired by SU’s Kent Syverud, not only altered Syracuse’s list of upcoming opponents, but illustrated the determination and hope among administrators that somehow, even with the nationwide battle against COVID-19 not slowing down, a college football season can be pulled off on college campuses where the majority of the population is between the ages of 18-22.
Is it any surprise that with so much money at stake the Power Five conferences are steamrolling ahead with formal plans to play a nearly normal schedule in the pandemic-ravaged country?
As opposed to pulling the plug now until a tested vaccine can control the warp-speed spread of the disease, and weighing the risks and liability along with the financial rewards from large TV contracts, the plan is to start the season the week of Sept. 7, see if it become abbreviated at some point due to numerous positive tests of the virus among the group consisting of student-athletes, coaches, staff members, and other assorted support personnel.
There is no bubble available for student athletes mixed with the general student body on college campuses. These are not salaried professionals. College-aged students are going to do what college-aged students do; socialize, the exact opposite of the prescribed social distancing recommended to help curtail the virus’s spread.
Recent reports indicate that an off-campus party at Rutgers (the now canceled second opponent of the original 2020 schedule) this month yielded 15 positive test results among RU football players. There’s no reason to think that even with the protocols in place by the Orange athletic department and Dino Babers’ staff that something similar could take place on The Hill.
Syracuse has not publicly announced if any players have tested positive for COVID-19, instead sending its test reporting to the Onondaga County Health Department, leaving no sense of where the program stands in relation to its Power Five brethren.
What also leaves us scratching our head is that virtually every public comment, whether that be from commissioner John Swofford, Syverud, or AD John Wildhack includes a quote about the paramount importance of the health and safety of the student athletes, yet with the money at stake, it seems like rolling the dice.
“As we look ahead to the fall, the safety of our students, staff and overall campus community continues to be our top priority,” Syverud pronounced in the ACC’s official statement detailing the plans to play games.
Moving forward with preseason preparations for an 11 game season in a contact sport which involves close participant proximity, seems paradoxical, especially with a non-contact sport such as Major League Baseball which involves interstate travel, hotel stays, and bus rides just like college football, has been slammed with positive tests in only one week of its 2020 season.
Meanwhile, if somehow the ACC season is played out against the backdrop of COVID-19, there are several elements detailed in this week’s schedule announcement that we would like to see extended or modified on an ongoing basis:
- Add Notre Dame as the 15th football member, and until its NBC contract for home games expires following the 2025 season, exchange a percentage of that revenue with a 1/15th share of the league’s current ESPN TV rights deal.
- Have a nine-game league schedule, with each team playing a Power Five rival and two other games it chooses from Group of Five (and non-FCS) opponents. Four ACC schools already have state rivalry games against SEC teams. For Syracuse, an annual matchup with Big 10 members Rutgers or Maryland, or even Penn State makes sense both geographically and for recruiting.
- End the two division Atlantic/Coastal format. It’s too unbalanced from a competitive standpoint, and each team needs to play each other on a shorter rotating schedule. As is planned for 2020, the two teams with the best records among the 15 schools should meet in the ACC Championship game.
- Expand SU’s permanent annual rivals from Boston College and Pittsburgh and the current Atlantic Division to include private school Duke, along with Miami and Virginia Tech, former intense Big East rivals.