Both the NCAA and the NFL have insisted on playing football this season despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, and neither has opted to try putting its teams in bubble environments. They have continued with teams traveling and playing in various stadiums nationwide, though in most cases there are no fans. But still these teams are going into states where the virus has surged and infection rates keep rising. In the case of the colleges, some have students on campus and others don’t. Sometimes it has been players who get infected, and in other cases coaching staff or support personnel.
All the Power 5 conferences have had games postponed and/or cancelled. Even though they didn’t even start playing till late November, the PAC-12 has still had to postpone some games. Now the NCAA is trying to work in a basketball season as well, and games started having to be cancelled even before the year began. They’re hoping to salvage the NCAA Tournament by having all the games in one place, though they haven’t yet announced that destination. Many are assuming it will be Indianapolis, since that’s where so much of the NCAA apparatus is located.
The College Football Playoff situation is equally disjointed. There’s no way for all teams to play an equal amount of games, so now decisions on which games will be rescheduled hinge on how important they are in terms of playoff seeding. Their late start has essentially disqualified West Coast teams from consideration, while it will be interesting to see if non-Power Five conference teams get consideration if they finish the season undefeated. Both Cincinnati and BYU began the week with no losses, though BYU’s schedule probably disqualifies it from serious consideration for a playoff spot. However Cincinnati has one of the nation’s premier defenses, and there are many who feel they deserve a shot at a berth if they can complete their season unscathed as champions of the All-American Conference.
Meanwhile the NFL is getting turned upside down by virus issues. The Denver Broncos ended up playing a game with a wide receiver at QB, someone who hadn’t lined up behind center since high school. That was because all the Denver QBs ended up being sent home reportedly because they were caught in meetings not wearing masks. The resulting 31-3 fiasco between the Broncos and New Orleans Saints was an embarrassment.
Likewise, the Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens game had been postponed and rescheduled twice at press time. What was first supposed to be a Thanksgiving night contest was shifted to Sunday, and then to Tuesday because of COVID-19 problems that extended across the Ravens’ staff and even included QB Lamar Jackson.
The NFL has said it is open to considering a bubble format for the playoffs, but they’ve got to get there first. Again the very real possibility exists not every team is going to play 16 games, which might make for a potentially unfair situation if one team with fewer wins than another makes the playoffs because they also don’t have as many losses due to playing fewer games.
In both the NCAA and NFL’s case, money is the driving factor in why neither organization cancelled its season. The Big 10 and Pac 12 initially did, but then once they saw the SEC, ACC and Big 12 going ahead and playing, they reversed their stances because they didn’t want to get shut out of College Football Playoff possibilities.
The NFL and NCAA desperately want playoff and Super Bowl money from the networks, and thus are determined to play out the schedule, no matter the cost. So once again, dollars rather than player health and safety, are the determining factor in what sports leagues do, no matter what they tell the public.