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Could the coronavirus affect the college football season?

More and more athletic directors are making contingency plans for what could be a delayed or shortened schedule.

Head coach Matt Campbell of the Iowa State Cyclones before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes on September 10, 2016 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

It’s still 148 days until the first scheduled college football game of 2020, but across the country FBS football programs are already considering the consequences of possibly not having football this season. The novel coronavirus that has already cost colleges March Madness might extend even further, and the loss of games and revenue could range from a huge blow to fatal for many programs.

Brett McMurphy of Stadium reports that some athletic directors are considering starting the season in October, or even later, and possibly having games as late as next May.

One Power Five athletic director asked if schools can’t begin in-person practices until late August or September, when would the season be able to begin? October or later?

“If we have to delay the start of the season, we could split it between two semesters,” a Power Five AD said. “Some bowls may not occur because of this, but we could play a full season, a majority of the bowls and the playoffs.

“Look, we are doing all types of contingency planning, even if these hypothetical scenarios never come close to happening. The biggest issue is (a start date) is a moving target.”

Another AD said they would favor the season being played over two semesters, something presidents usually have been against. That might mean a football version of March Madness.

“If we could play in a non-traditional season and extend into winter (after the traditional holiday break), I would be more optimistic about a 12-game season,” the AD said. “But it’s too early to tell.”

Also Matt Brown of SB Nation and the Extra Points newsletter (you can subscribe for free here) says that an economic crisis is coming to D1 athletics, and points what happened to one Big XII school this week as potentially the future. The Iowa State Cyclones cut the salaries of coaches and certain administrative staff, and suspended all bonuses and incentives for coaches.

Asking high earning leaders to take a hit before laying off substantially more vulnerable employees is good leadership, in my opinion, and something more organizations ought to be doing. Those coaches are still going to come out ahead of where they might have been a few years ago. Giving up a little bit now will give them additional credibility on the recruiting trail, with the university administration, and with the fanbase. If they can afford it, they ought to offer to do it.

Schools like ISU are still in a better financial position than those at the bottom of the Group of Five schools. As Brown points out in his newsletter, Old Dominion cut its wrestling program this week in anticipation of the financial difficulties forthcoming. And decisions like this show that football games need to be played to keep many athletic departments solvent, as football is the revenue stream that funds other sports and administration.

It’s a fluid situation, and fall practice is still far enough away where no decisions need to be made yet. But if the pandemic doesn’t ease anytime soon, we might see a college football season that doesn’t look like one anyone will remember.

For bettors, there are some trivial questions that will need to be answered. Scenarios that change the length of the season means season win total bets might end up being refunded if teams don’t complete a full slate of regular season games. It also means potential capital tied up for even longer on futures wagers, and plenty of other implications including preseason bets on individual games. If the date of a game is changed, does the original wager between the two teams stand?

It’s something to keep an eye on, as everyone will need to wait for the advice of healthcare professionals (many of whom work at the colleges involved already). But as we continue to enter a sports world like we’ve never seen, college football is the next sport that might experience disruption thanks to Covid-19.