After seeing most of the spring sports season - and the NCAA basketball playoffs - canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the national sports’ focus has begun to center on this fall’s football season.
Some question whether the college football season will begin on time. Others wonder whether the season will be held at all.
Southeastern Oklahoma State University Athletic Director Keith Baxter has heard all those questions - and more - and has as many answers as the rest of us.
“I wished I had answers, but I don’t even know what some of the questions are at this point,” he stated last week following the weekly conference call of Great American Conference athletic directors. “There are just so many unknowns.”
Baxter has lost count of the number of different scenarios, ideas and other projections he has heard over the past month and a half from a variety of college figureheads.
The only thing he knows for certain is that all campus activities at Southeastern have been canceled through the month of June.
That includes sports camps in nearly all sports, but he iterated that many of those youth camps could still take place in July, provided the campus opens back up.
That also includes the possibility of area high school commencement ceremonies that were scheduled to take place at Bloomer Sullivan Arena at various times this month.
“Everyone is waiting on cues from the government and the NCAA on what we are going to be allowed to do,” Baxter added. “The last thing we want to do is have a resurgence in this thing (virus).”
Many officials have stated the first hurdle for the start of football season would be having students back on campus. While it hasn’t officially been announced that would happen at Southeastern in August, other factors tend to lead that way.
Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have stated they plan to return to on-campus classes this fall, which could lead other regional state universities to follow suit.
How scheduling would work could be the next issue, especially with crowds coming back onto campuses. Then there are also budget issues, which obviously wouldn’t be close to the neighborhood of Division I universities, but would still need to be taken into account, especially with a reported $1.3 billion state budget shortfall in Oklahoma.
“Right now we are planning to approach things like we have in the past and adjust from there,” Baxter said. “I feel like we will have some type of scheduling adjustments made for a host of reasons due to this. What those are remains to be seen.
“I can’t imagine not having a football season. It’s a wait-and-see deal though, and it’s ever-changing, almost on a daily basis. Our conference commissioner and others have been working to make different proposal ideas to the NCAA with different scheduling scenarios.”
Everything is on the table.
“The state is looking at $1.3 billion deficit, and we are looking at anywhere from a 7.5- to 10-percent cuts in budgets at the regional universities because of it. That’s a pretty high number,” he said. “The decisions that will be made on how we are going to handle those deficits is still an unknown.”
Obviously, the Division I schools and multi-million dollar television contracts are at the forefront of the NCAA decision. Some of the bigger conferences at the Division I level have suggested going on with the football season even though other conferences, especially those in more COVID-19-ravaged states, may not participate.
That’s not an ideal situation, but one that is definitely on the table according to Baxter.
“Once the NCAA hands down a mandate, it will then go to the conference and then individual institutions,” he said. “Whether the NCAA says we should play 100 percent, 80 percent or 60 percent of our games, we’ll figure out a way to follow suit.
“On each coast there are more numbers of people effected by the virus, so it will be interesting to see how the NCAA looks at that. Division I is a whole different animal with huge revenue and big television contracts that make a difference.
“In Division II, revenue is a big key but we wouldn’t be in the hundreds of millions of dollars in loss if we don’t have football season. I would hope it would be something across the board, especially in Division II.
“Some universities are dropping some sports and even closing because of the budget situation. Personally, I would rather have a reduced schedule in all our sports than to have the discussion of dropping any sports. The budget crunch is going to hit us so hard that it might be tough to have a full schedule,” he said.
The Southeastern athletic director mentioned a few of the ideas that have been thrown out on the table in the weekly Great American Conference athletic director calls.
“One drastic idea is just split the conference and play five division games within your state and then have a semifinal and championship with the top two teams in each division,” said Baxter. “I don’t really like that plan, but if it’s the only way we can play football we may have to do it.
“Some have come up with the idea of postponing the start of the season to sometime in late September and playing to December. Or even moving all sports to the spring semester.
“Right now, I think all ideas are on the table. Time is running short and decisions are going to have to be made sooner rather than later. There are just so many unknowns. I think it’s going to fall somewhere in the middle of all that.”
While the bantering of ideas continues about how the college football season of 2020 will eventually be constructed, safety is still at the center of everyone’s minds.
Even though the roughly four months until the scheduled Sept. 3 football season opener seems a long time away, time is quickly ticking.
“Our main issues are student safety and welfare, campus safety and welfare, and then budgets,” Baxter added. “To start the season on time, our players have to be on campus by Aug. 2. We want our athletes to be in a safe environment when we do get back to playing. It is definitely going to be a change.
“Even if you did play in the spring, then what would happen to the 2021 season, which would follow pretty quickly. Those questions would have to be answered as well.
“I would be extremely excited to get all of our athletic seasons in during the 2020-21 year,” he said, “even if it was in a somewhat reduced schedule.”