Major League Baseball opened its season Thursday night, and the NBA and NHL seem poised to restart theirs shortly.
There was heavy pessimism clouding the return of pro sports, with the positive COVID-19 tests threatening to derail what seemed to be a premature return. So far, however, things have gone relatively smoothly and each sport is on track to at least attempt to play, even if a successful finish to each season is far from assured.
That brings us to college football, where the pessimism may be thickest.
It appears that the ACC will follow in the footsteps of the professional leagues, however, and at least work toward starting the season. The league will hold meetings next week, during which it is expected to decide on several key factors related to the season.
One thing appears to be certain at this point, the schedule of 12 games that each team has posted on its website and, in many cases, has sold tickets for already, is unlikely to be the one that actually gets played.
The first thing the league need to decide is a starting point. Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan, who is planning the Chick fil-A Kickoff games to open the year, seemed resigned to the fact that there will be some type of delay when he spoke to the North State Journal last week.
Unlike the Ivy League, who is pushing its season to the spring, it appears the delay will just be to later in September. Yahoo’s Pete Thamel tweeted on Thursday that the ACC was considering Sept. 12, 19 or 26 as potential dates for opening day.
Depending in large part on when the season starts, the length of the season will be the next factor to get ironed out. The current favorite, according to Thamel, is an 11-game schedule for each team. Nine- and 10-game schedules are also on the table.
Connected to that decision is the nonconference issue. Each ACC team currently plays eight league games and four nonconference contests. Some leagues, most notably the Big Ten and Pac-12, have already announced that they’re scrapping all nonconference games this year.
The ACC and SEC don’t want to do that, due to some high-profile rivalry games such as Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Louisville-Kentucky and Clemson-South Carolina. There’s also the Kickoff game between UNC and Auburn.
Both leagues are expected to go with a +1 model, where each team plays a conference schedule plus one nonconference game. So an 11-game schedule, the leader in the clubhouse, would be a 10+1.
That brings up another issue for the ACC: Notre Dame. The Irish are an independent for football, generally playing four to six ACC teams each year. This year’s Notre Dame schedule has six ACC games. It also has three games against Big Ten and Pac-12 teams that will have to be replaced.
John Swofford had indicated that the ACC would be willing to help the Irish fill out their schedule this season.
One option would be to have teams without a rivalry game add the Irish to their schedule. Another, which has been floated as a possibility by some outlets, is that the Irish would also play a 10+1 ACC schedule this season. Obviously, there are many issues that would need to be ironed out in that scenario: Is Notre Dame eligible for the conference title? How would the revenue from the Irish’s contract with NBC be shared? What would happen in 2021 and beyond?
Finally, there’s the issue of travel. Longtime Virginia writer David Teel reported that the ACC would likely scrap the divisional schedule model they’ve used for decades. Instead, teams would move to a more regional model, playing teams close to them.
Most of the North Carolina-based ACC teams already play each other this year. A UNC-Wake Forest game is the only one that would need to be added. NC State and Wake would likely add games with the two Virginia teams. UNC and Duke could tack on a game with Clemson.
It appears, however, to be as close to a best-case scenario as college fans — and revenue starved athletic departments — could hope for, with the vast majority of the schedule being played and a relatively short delay to the start.
There’s still a long way to go, but next week appears to be a pivotal one for college football in 2020.