How Would It Work? (Part II)

Aug 17, 2020

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Let me tell you - it is really hard to write right now. I can't remember struggling this much. I sat down yesterday to write one of the Looks Like University Of Illinois posts I owe and no chance. None. I cannot get my brain into "talk about Illini football like everything is normal" mode. Maybe the whole "sorry folks - Big Ten's canceled - moose out front should've told ya" part hasn't really hit me until now.

I think I've been able to pinpoint the reason I can barely open Twitter and struggle to find what to write about: the certainty. I just don't understand the certainty everywhere. One tweet will be calling for the Big Ten Commissioner's head, claiming that he failed here (how would anyone "know" that right now?). The next tweet will specifically blame those who didn't wear masks for costing us college football (again, do we "know" that case count was the reason? Seems to me this myocarditis report played a huge role and that was going to cancel things unless zero cases could be guaranteed.). Then I'll see tweets saying that the myocarditis report was "obviously flawed" (ok, I KNOW that there's no way anyone in Sports Twitter would know that). Nobody knows anything, but everyone is certain who to blame.

And in this era of certainty, everything is stanced. Perhaps you read my "do we know that?" about Kevin Warren and thought "oh you're one of those guys who just gulps down whatever the commissioner says". (No.) Perhaps you read my "do we know that?" about case count and thought "oh you're one of those guys who doesn't think we should wear masks". (Wrong again.) I'm one of those guys who wonders why everyone is so certain about issues that cause medical experts to say "it will take months of controlled studies before we truly have an answer". I can understand discussing it; I can't understand believing the solution is obvious.

My opinion, if you want to hear it: These decisions center around risk. When a decision like that is made, you might never know if you were correct. Your daughter wants to jump off the 25-foot cliff on the lake edge. Tell her yes and she could get seriously injured. Tell her no and she might miss an opportunity to trust herself and overcome fear. There's no right answer. She just says "pleeease" and it's up to you to weigh which one is best.

The Big Ten and SEC players (and now their parents?) said "pleeease". The SEC said yes. The Big Ten said no. And I have no idea which one was right. (Twitter seems to know, though.)

OK, so with the Big Ten and Pac-12 moving to the spring, the question remains: how would it work? I have a friend who thinks there's no chance - this was a can kicked down the road to keep the hope that there will still be football but when the time comes, it will just be "you know, the 2021 fall season is only six months away - let's just go with that". I tend to think they'll play in the spring (it's at least ~some~ revenue), so let's talk about how it might play out. Part I I talked about eligibility concerns. For Part II, let's talk about the stadiums and the weather and the timing. We'll call this the "when?" discussion.

We've seen proposals that mention conference-only seasons in January-February and we've seen proposals that take the season up to Memorial Day. You've heard "can you play football in Minneapolis in January?" and you've seen "would they really hold the Rose Bowl in June? So let's talk timing. There seems to be three factors:

  1. Back-To-Back - Can you play a season that ends in May and then turn around and play another season starting in September?
  2. Weather - The Big Ten plays football in Minneapolis and Madison, so do you really want to play in January?
  3. NFL Draft - Juniors and seniors want to use this season to showcase their skills for the scouts, so does it have to be complete by late-April?

One by one.

Back-To-Back Seasons

This one is probably the least known. Like, when discussing the weather we can talk specifics of temperature and precipitation but I don't think there are parameters for "is it safe to play 10-12 football games ending in May and then do it all again in September?".

I mean, you have to start with "football isn't a safe sport", right? Meaning, if you handed this to question to a group of doctors, their response is probably "just don't play football at all and then you'll never tear a pectoral muscle or dislocate your ankle". The question of "how often doing this unsafe thing is too often?" is a weird one.

But we do see it being discussed a lot. And recovery time is a real thing. The one thing I don't think all football fans (college or pro) realize is how much rehab happens in January-February-March. A player was cleared by doctors but was playing with a bum shoulder for the last two months. In the offseason, he'll get his shoulder scoped to clean up some cartilage damage around the rotator cuff (or whatever). A few months of rehab and he can use that shoulder pain-free.

Depending on the severity of the injury, sometimes the player will be held out of spring football. I think it was three years ago where there was one spring practice where the Illini had 28 players sitting out. The reaction is always "how did these players get injured?", but it's not really always that. One piece of loose tissue near a joint keeps causing inflammation - they clean it up, the player sits out of contact and heavy lifting for a bit, and they're good as new.

So if you have a season that ends in May and training camp starting in early August {I'm not a doctor disclaimer goes here}, I'm guessing that's not enough recovery time for a typical football offseason. Or even basketball (lots of offseason knees being scoped and cleaned up). Heck, my son who ran cross country and track missed the start of track season one year because four months off wasn't enough to recover from a relatively minor soft tissue injury during cross country season in the fall. Offseason rehab is a real thing for all sports, especially football.

"How would it work"? You'd probably need to get this season over with as soon as possible to maximize the time between seasons. And that might mean 9-game seasons in both 2020 and 2021. Well, both in 2021 I guess. The earlier the better for the first. Of course...


I put together a few tweets on this last week which I will now link over here. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is advocating for as season that would start in late February, and Ohio State coach Ryan Day wants a season that starts as early as possible in January (so that the two-dozen players he has who will consider the NFL Draft can complete their season before the draft). So I looked at the average temperature in all of the Big Ten cities on those dates (January 15th and February 27th):

A few quick thoughts there:

  • Why does it take so long for State College to warm up? 6th-warmest stadium in mid-January but by February 27th it falls to 10th.
  • I'm surprised that Champaign and Columbus aren't the same. Columbus averages four degrees warmer across the board. Latitude of the two stadiums: Memorial Stadium: 40.0988. Ohio Stadium: 40.0016
  • No real surprises here. Minneapolis, Madison, and East Lansing are the northern-most cities and also the coldest. Bloomington and College Park are the "warmest".

Perhaps the best way to look at this is to bracket late fall and late winter. As in, where does the average high/low bottom out and what is the comp for the Jeff Brohm date (February 27th). I'll use Champaign as my example (data comes from this daily climate data website).

January 15th is right around the coldest day of the year for Champaign. It bottoms out from January 19th to the 22nd (average high 32.3, average low 15.2) before it starts climbing again. So if you're wanting to avoid the lowest temperatures, avoid January 20th or so.

For the Jeff Brohm start date (February 27th), the exact fall comp for Champaign is November 30th. For February 27th the average high is 42.6 and the average low is 25.0. That's most similar to November 30th (average high 42.7, average low 26.1). Carrying that forward, a game being played on February 10th (average high 35.7, average low 18.7) is like playing a game on December 21st (35.4/19.7). A game held on March 17th (50.9/30.3) would be very similar to a game on November 15th (50.8/32.5). You could still play a game in typical December temperatures - the photo at the top is the Fresno State game from December 5, 2009 (as I recall the high was 13) - but it starts to push right to the edge of "is this possible"? Yes, The Ice Bowl and whatnot, but at some point, you're pushing the bounds of possible.

Here's where I land: since the last game in 2019 (Northwestern) was on November 30th, the proposed Jeff Brohm date (February 27th) matches the exact same Champaign weather. Meaning, start on that date and, weather-wise, the risk of too-cold/snow is the exact same as the fall season, just in reverse. Makes sense to me.

NFL Draft

First off, I'll let you get your "Illini football has been playing the long game for the last 30 years" jokes out now. I'll wait.

("The team in the best position to have their full roster for a spring season is the team with the least NFL draft picks - we've been preparing for this since the early 90's!")

OK, now we can talk about it.

Joe Burrow makes a great point:

Crazy to think about, but probably true. Without the 2019 season, Joe Burrow probably isn't even drafted. I forget who made this comp on Twitter last December, but Burrow's 2018 stats were basically Brandon Peters' 2019 stats:

Burrow 2018 - 222 passing yards per game, 16 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
Peters 2019 - 188 passing yards per game, 18 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

Then Burrow throws for 5,671 yards and is the #1 overall pick. I'm not saying Peters will do the same (wait, could he?) - I'm saying that Burrow is probably right. If the 2019 season had been canceled due to a global pandemic, he probably doesn't even get a sniff in the draft (nor a combine invite) based on those 2018 numbers.

So that becomes a big part of this. 4th-year and 5th-year players want a season because they might be able to prove themselves draft-worthy. Yes, there are a lot more Penn State players proving themselves draft-worthy than Illinois players, but for guys like Nate Hobbs and Alex Palczewski, this is a chance to put themselves squarely in the draft.

Currently, that draft is scheduled to begin April 29th. So you would think they would want a spring season to be complete before that time, right? And if Ryan Day wants Justin Fields to be his quarterback, he'd probably need the season complete by March 20th or so - that way Fields and his teammates would have time for a Pro-Day (or maybe even an NFL Combine) before the draft happens.

There's always the possibility that the NFL would be willing to move the draft date back. In 2014 it was moved from its typical April weekend to mid-May. They eventually moved it back to late April (apparently because the teams felt crunched between a mid-May draft and a late-July camp opening), but for one season, the draft might be moved back 3-4 weeks to allow for more player evaluation.

Still, this is a big factor. If the NFL holds to their April 29th date, everything almost has to work backwards from there. Yes, the MLB draft and the College World Series are happening at the same time, so it could be something like that Stanford player who found out he was drafted while standing in the on-deck circle during a super-regional game. Milo Eifler makes a tackle in Northwestern's backfield and then finds out the Jets just took him in the 4th round.

But with the way the NFL draft works, especially the combine and players signing with agents, it seems like the regular season really couldn't extend beyond the draft. If Milo Eifler really did find out he was drafted by the Jets after that TFL, he's likely sitting or the rest of the game (and the season) because mission accomplished.

I guess as I'm writing this that's another reason the Jeff Brohm plan makes a lot of sense. Season ends April 17th, so two weeks before the draft. Not ideal, but I don't think it would drive a dagger into the heart of the draft process. If it's just the Big Ten and Pac 12 playing football, there'd be some kind of playoff thing - maybe Division Title games a few weeks after the season ends and then the winners of those games would meet (in the Rose Bowl? Would they call it the Rose Bowl?). And it's possible that all of the draft-eligible guys drop out at that point and then the "postseason" happens without Justin Fields or Penei Sewell playing. (Or maybe they opt out for the full spring season. Or maybe there is no spring season. Remember - no one really knows anything at this point.)

Thinking about this, it's really hard to say. I'm basically that kombucha gif. On one hand, I can't see any certain draftees wanting to play, even if there's a vaccine and Covid is under control. There are a fair number of third-year players (like Fields) who have already proven themselves and have just been waiting for that three year clock to expire. On the other hand, there's also a ton of Burrows - players who need this season to grab that draft spot. It's like all the high school juniors missing football this fall. Junior film is everything, so if there's no junior year football, there's no offers. By the time they have senior film, it will likely be too late.

So I can see this draft issue both ways. I'm at "no way players will want to play" one minute and then "players will be desperate to play" the next. Overconfident players might opt out and not get drafted; players who don't need to prove themselves might play and get injured. And if the SEC/ACC/B12 do play football this fall and the NFL just carries forward with a typical March combine (while the Big Ten and Pac 12 are in week three), all hell breaks loose.

Yeah, you're right. I should have stopped at "nobody knows anything" above and just hit publish. The next few months might prove that everyone is fooling themselves trying to play sports during a global pandemic. We might see the SEC and ACC flame out spectacularly, ending any chance at a spring season.

(But it MIGHT work for US.)


uofi08 on August 17, 2020 @ 04:05 PM

There's just so many moving parts to this college football thing, it's really hard even grasp what my actual opinion is. So much is unknown, so much is risk, etc. I will say, my problem with the Big Ten is not that they cancelled the season. My issue is if you're going to be first to make a definitive decision, you need to provide some transparency on how and why you came to that decision. I think there's a very good chance the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 all eventually cancel their seasons too. I'd say it's more likely they play 1 or less games than 8 or more. But they are at least giving themselves a chance. See what happens after a few weeks of students on campuses. See if and how player positive tests are handled, how are the games handled, etc. There appears to be some movement on the Yale/Illinois saliva style instant tests. What if those are approved and all P5 teams have it available to them in a month? What if the myocarditis screening is found to be completely acceptable for Covid-recovered athletes? Basically, why is the Big Ten certain enough to cancel when so many other conference decision makers are open to more advancements and giving this a go? I had more issues with Kevin Warren's non-answers than with his decision.

The spring season has a ton of non-covid issues. It's going to be tied to the '21 fall season, so how are those games going to be scheduled? There's 0% chance on 2 full seasons. I think you're looking at 18-20 regular season games tops across the 2 seasons. How do you want to split that up? Based on NFL and traditional college scheduling, I think that means the '21 season stays as normally scheduled as possible. With that I mean it stays at 12, or no fewer than 10 games. The NFL is usually pretty good on scheduling. Since they've pushed the draft previously, I think they would definitely do it again, making it in mid to late May. I agree with all your weather analysis and the late February start time makes the most sense. 6-8 games starting in late February and maybe ending with some sort of title game or a B1G/PAC challenge thing. You have to go into a spring season expecting significant defections. If you're near certain of being a top 3 round pick, there's no good reason to risk your health leading up to your dream job. Those guys will most likely not play at all. Then you're going to have the guys that work their way into the draft in the first half of the season. If those guys feel they have proven enough, they smartly should sit the rest of the season. Sure some will stay but most will be encouraged to sit. The spring season is going to be weird no matter how you schedule it and the defections are going to happen regardless of how early it starts.

Overall, I don't know how feasible it is, but since the players are still practicing, I would love to see the conference say they will reevaluate a possible season in like a month. It will give the players some positive news and keep the conference somewhat on par with the other big conferences. These players would be absolutely crushed if the other conferences find a way to have a safe healthy season while the Big Ten kids are sitting at home. I guess my thoughts are around the best case spring season being 6-8 games long with a not-insignificant number of player defections. So based on that, try for as long as you can to make fall a reality.

McAdoo on August 18, 2020 @ 12:01 AM

If a spring season were to happen, why not just the 6 division games and then a Big Ten championship game? (I know, I know, revenue.) You can start January 16th and the regular season is done February 27th with just the 6 division games (You would need 7 weeks to do it, since one team would have a bye each week), with only two teams playing a 7th game on March 6th. I do think the weather concern is significant, however the easy answer would be to have some of the regular season games for each team played at the domes in Minneapolis and St. Louis (West) and then Indianapolis and Detroit (East). There's no way to make the arrangement 100 percent fair/equitable since, again, one team must be on a bye each week, however I think it could be done. Let's take a look.

(The games in small-caps would be at the neutral domes.)

ILL: iowa wisc minn neb PUR at NW --BYE--

IOWA ill --BYE-- wisc nw at MINN at PUR NEB

WISC nw ill iowa minn at NEB --BYE-- PUR

NEB pur nw --BYE-- ill WISC MINN at IOWA

MINN --BYE-- pur ill wisc IOWA at NEB NW

NW wisc neb pur iowa --BYE-- ILL at MINN

PUR neb minn nw --BYE-- at ILL IOWA at WISC

uofi08 on August 18, 2020 @ 07:11 AM

Good post. I agree that 6-7 games is probably the most realistic spring season. I am having trouble thinking it can start in January though. That would be a very fast ramp up from a shortened winter break to the first game. I do like the dome idea. I was trying to figure out how the teams could potentially be grouped, and maybe I'm missing a domed stadium in there, but maybe something like Nebraska, Minn, Iowa, Wisc have their home games in the Minn dome. Illinois, NW, Purdue, Ind have their home in Indy. MSU, UM, and OSU in Detroit. And PSU, Rut, and MD play their home games at MD. I know MD is not a dome but it is the furthest south in the conference and maybe those teams could play mostly away games early on. Honestly I don't really see this setup as a possibility, but what else are we going to talk about lol.

ktal on August 18, 2020 @ 08:41 AM

I think we all know and we're not willing to face it.

There will be no CFB this fall or next spring. And unless a quality vaccine has been nationally distributed, there will be no CFB in 2021. And if Twitter Barbie is still in the White House, the vaccine will most definitely be screwed up, and bye bye '21.

Think about the emotional impact of that on the student athletes. How are they coping with the emotional shift of losing the thing they're passionate about, for some, their meal ticket, and for all athletes the structure and community that comes with being a student-athlete. These are the stories we need to hear, as well as more about what the chemistry (and other) nerds are doing across campus to address the crisis (e.g. having both the test and the lab already set up!!! Tell that story!!!!!)

Sorry to break it to you, Robert, but if you're not willing to write those articles, you're not going to be doing much writing in the next 18 months. The thing is, you're great at writing those kinds of stories and your readers love them. They're why you write, right? Well, they have never needed to feel connected to a community who cares, than now, and your writing can bridge that gap. So (respectfully) Robert, get your butt in gear!

thumpasaurus on August 18, 2020 @ 09:10 AM

Robert's an Illini fan. That's why he can't quite let go of the season until September 3rd comes and goes with no Illini football. That's why he goes to the game where we're 2-4 and 31-point home underdogs. That's why he watches to the end of a 63-0 loss. UNTIL IT'S ACTUALLY FINAL, there is ALWAYS A CHANCE!

Illini fans have to believe this.

ktal on August 18, 2020 @ 11:50 AM

Thump, I love your work as much as Robert's!

I'm probably a pessimist by wiring, but an optimist by choice. I think choosing an optimistic outlook is required for any Illini fan hoping to retain a thread of sanity...'cause this road is rough! But that's what it means to be a sports fan, right? To live the highs and lows and try to love the journey as much as the results. Who more than Illini fans need to be able to draw pleasure from the process, since the results haven't exactly been doin' it lately?!

My point is that right now our favorite people, the Illini student athletes, are getting hit with all the same trauma as everyone else, but are ALSO being deprived of their support system AND their coping activities [assuming they chose sport as their outlet...their constructive energy release], at the same time They need us now more than ever, and you and Robert are our best connection to them, but those stories aren't [yet] being written.

Which leaves Illini Nation wasting time sniping at each other and fretting for 'Rona instead of sharing ideas and techniques for facing the unique challenges of our time. If we were discussing how we faced our toughest days, Student athletes might find some pearls of wisdom to draw upon during this time of need. Sports blogs are the perfect infrastructure for idea sharing and hashing things out in public. Let's put that power to good use by allocating some air time to discussing healthy practices for athletes and sportsfans which are meaningful to these specific times. That allows their sports community to stay together and go through this experience together even as the student athletes are unable to compete.

There's no requirement that one gives up hope for future seasons in order to meet the need at hand. We simply aren't meeting the need at hand. Doing so is not incompatible with hopefulness.

Joe Edge on August 20, 2020 @ 12:04 PM

I have to agree with Ktal's primary point - or at least what I perceive is the primary point... Illini fans and student athletes need your help Robert.. To at least provide a partial support system for their efforts, and to help them keep up the faith, and help them believe in the ultimate goal when they pursue their athletic dreams, regardless of short-term obstacles ...

I really don't want to get into the politics of all this, because I tend too easily to get excited and agitated by all the nonsense that people bring up - and that is NOT Good for my ticker... Yet it is my understanding that 100% of the university presidents and chancellors not only agreed with this decision, but indeed insisted that this be the position...

Hoppy on August 19, 2020 @ 03:09 AM


You could have truly stopped after the first reason. There are too many question marks about playing 2 seasons that close.

Some additions: If the Big 3 do actually have full seasons, and prove everyone wrong, they will be more rested/recovered than B1G and PAC-12 players by the Fall of ‘21. (If a spring season happens)

Another curve ball circles back to eligibility. While it’s nice that all of our guys will get another year if their season is canceled, will the NCAA be able to uphold it? Again, let’s imagine the fall season DOES happens for the Big 3 but a minor outbreak stops the B1G spring season one game in. (Or it just doesn’t happen for whatever reason)

Now, imagine things are relatively back to normal by week 1 of Fall ‘21. Do you think the SEC/ACC/B12 are going to be okay with the fact that every non con game against a B1G/PAC opponent will be full of 6th year seniors and 5th year juniors? We know what one year can do for a guy...and everyone on the team will get a free redshirt year. The average age for each B1G team will be roughly a year more than each team in those other 3 conferences. The SEC et al will definitely complain.

And what about recruiting? If all the players keep their year of eligibility, most B1G teams will still be near their 85 man scholarship limit by the end of this year. Sure they will recruit SOME players to fill attrition gaps, but the other conferences are going to feast on the relatively untouched recruiting grounds of the B1G and PAC. Also, many prep recruits won’t have a place to go, thus hurting their chances at a football (or even college) future due to less spots at less schools.

So does the NCAA just raise the cap to 105? The SEC/ACC/B12 wouldn’t be able to fill that many since there is a 25(28) recruit limit and they all had normal attrition. So would it be fair to them when they travel to play a game against a B1G opponent that the B1G team has 20 some extra players? And it’s not like the NCAA regulates how teams fill scholarships. What if a team fills up with a bunch of grad transfers and has a crazy experienced/old squad? Maybe the NCAA does away with the 25 recruit limit...but then the SEC et al will once again have a recruiting advantage with more scholarships to give.

So much extra stuff to weigh here simply due to the fact that the season is in the spring but not for all conferences.

Best case scenario is B1G/PAC moves it back to the fall or everyone moves to the spring. Either that or a small outbreak (Mild Symptoms please) takes place at a random school in the SEC/ACC/PAC and its all canceled and we don’t see football until it’s mostly back to normal in the fall 2021.

IBFan on August 19, 2020 @ 10:30 PM

Thanks again Robert for your work. So many things to digest and contemplate.
Seems very hard to find “truth” in these times... too many agendas, too little sincerity . And as you said the certainty that people spout with no actual definitives.
Hoping players get to hit the field as safe as possible as soon as possible.

John Case on August 19, 2020 @ 11:09 PM

Hey bud, I live in the very near suburbs of a major city. I can't remember the last time I went somewhere in public seeing anyone not wearing a mask. At some point, maybe every intelligent person witnessing all of this needs to wake up. The average age of covid death is 80. Average age of mortality is 78. Look it up. Maybe, in an election year, the bad people just got you to destroy your employment and mental health............for an election. Last time a republican incumbant heading into an electetion, there was a financial crisis and brought in an complete idiot to white house. This time, we have the zombie apocalypse. Grow up people or you will end up in a concentration camp.

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