College football season begins with a bang

College football season begins with a bang

How about that Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas FCS kickoff game, though? Never thought I would type those words or watch that game, but here we are. For those of you who didn’t see, Central Arkansas beat Austin Peay in a close 24-17 game and it was certainly a weird one. No marching bands, no cheerleaders in the stands, a couple thousand spread-out fans and ESPN announcers calling the game from Connecticut. 

Every conference is handling this differently, so before we jump into what things look like for the major conferences, let’s look at the differences throughout all of college football this fall. First of all, fans are the lifeblood of college football. While we may not have a wild and crazy crowd at most Wake Forest games, colleges like Penn State or Clemson going from tens of thousands of fans every game to just a few thousand fans will be extremely weird. Tailgating is such a huge part of the game for fans in terms of bringing everyone together, and that won’t be allowed either. The Austin Peay vs Central Arkansas game itself looked normal but the sidelines were altered to have longer benches and bench areas with precautions in place to allow photographers and reporters to remain socially distanced. 

Next up, let’s discuss what the plans are for FBS conferences this fall. About half of the conferences have decided to postpone and are considering other options. The Mountain West, MAC, PAC-12 and Big Ten all announced that their seasons are postponed and they will all look into playing football, along with other fall sports, in the spring. The Big Ten is definitely the most interesting conference of this lot, as there are now players and families protesting the ruling as well as new discussion within the conference about the situation. Last I heard, the Big Ten is now looking into starting the ‘spring’ season this fall, perhaps sometime around Thanksgiving, rather than starting in January like it previously appeared. I want football more than most people you will meet, but it is definitely interesting that the same conference which produced the medical evidence of COVID-19-related heart issues also has players and parents protesting. My biggest issue here is the constant deliberation of the Big Ten conference officials. Preparing for a football season requires athletes to work into strength and practice routines while ramping up game-specific drills and plays. For all of the players’ and teams’ sake, a decision needs to be made so that everyone can plan accordingly.

Now we move to the non-Power 5 group that plans to play, which includes the Sun Belt and American conferences. The American is one of the most interesting conferences to me, as they are now having certain sports play this fall while postponing others. On Aug. 5, the conference announced that certain fall sports would be played while baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis and women’s rowing would not have any fall competition. Then on Aug. 25, the conference announced that men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball would be postponed to the spring as well. As a result, only football and cross country appear to be competing this fall. In the Sun Belt, football will begin over Labor Day weekend; they have an eight-conference game schedule with an option for up to four non-conference games. 

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Looking towards the Power 5 conferences, we have the SEC, ACC and Big 12 planning to play. The SEC is utilizing a 10-game football schedule of all conference games that begins Sept. 26. The Big 12 also has a 10-game schedule but have nine conference games and one non-conference game in the plans. Their conference games won’t begin until Sept. 26 and all non-conference games have to come before that date but not prior to Sept. 1. Last but most certainly not least, the ACC has planned an 11-game football schedule featuring 10 conference games and one non-conference game beginning the week of Sept. 7.

Given how quickly things seem to change in the COVID-world we are living in, I would not be at all surprised if any or all of these plans change in the next few weeks. For now, I will be eagerly awaiting Sept. 12 when the Demon Deacons take on the Clemson Tigers at newly-renamed Truist Field down the road from campus. I think college football is what we all need after a year which has proved to be absurd thus far, and I hope for the teams and fans alike that we can make this work.

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