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Will the 2020 college football season be canceled? Coaches, ADs weigh possibility and impact

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What was once unthinkable has quietly become a discussion point and concern throughout college athletics. Will the coronavirus pandemic force the cancellation of the 2020 college football season?

With it already having taken out the NCAA Tournament and the remainder of 2019-20 season, including the College World Series, athletic departments are looking ahead to football as the next major event on the collegiate sports calendar.

“I am not trying to be overly pessimistic, but I’m doubtful we’re going to have a 2020 football season, NFL or college,” said Warren K. Zola, a respected expert on sports law and executive director of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. “That’s just me. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re all back over the summer.”

From a view more than five months from kickoff on Aug. 29, that concept is hard to comprehend.

Just pause for a moment and consider where we are right now as a country with the coronavirus. With 72 percent of Americans believing containment will take a few months or longer, 57 percent say the battle with the coronavirus is “going badly,” according to a CBS News poll. There are currently 55,330 confirmed cases in the United States with 804 deaths, and neither the testing rate nor the infection rate has reached its peak.

Now imagine, five months from now, jamming 100,000 fans on a steamy Saturday afternoon into a stadium to watch 22 men in close proximity on any given snap running 150-plus plays.

That’s the furthest thing from social distancing.

It hit Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork this week when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed. That event was set to take place roughly a month before the start of the college football season (July 24 to Aug. 9). Olympic officials finally concluded it was not wise for 11,000 athletes from all over the world to congregate for two-plus weeks.

“With that news right there, then that starts creeping into the football season and training camps and scheduling,” Bjork said. “… I don’t know how you operate [if the season is canceled]. Where would the bailout come from? Because we would all have to have one if we were going to maintain any sort of normalcy.”

Since about March 12, when the NCAA Tournament was canceled, the nation in general has been hunkered down facing a new normal: trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

That has left college athletic programs pondering the possible loss of their top revenue generator. The cancellation of the 2020 college football season — or even a drastic reduction in its games — would dwarf missing out on a month of March Madness. Football is the nation’s most popular sport. The country’s attachment to it — economically and emotionally — cannot be underestimated.

College football as an enterprise accounted for $6.5 billion in revenue during the 2018-19 academic year, according to Andy Schwarz, a partner and consulting expert with California-based law firm OSKR. That’s an average of $51 million per school.

In general, 80 percent of FBS athletic budgets are made up of football revenue.

“Just the thought of it, I think we’re all thinking about [losing the season],” Georgia AD Greg McGarity said. “Now, what does that mean? That’s what is going to be defined here over the next two or three weeks.”

Or more.

Spring practices and spring games are already canceled. Players have moved home to study remotely. Recruiting activities have been suspended, too.

After the semester concludes, what’s next?

Coronavirus cases are multiplying at a dizzying rate in hot spots like New York. Obviously, there is no assurance the practices lost this spring will be made up in the summer … nor whether players will even be able to assemble in a group before fall camp begins … if it begins at all.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall already said he is open to a “modified season.”

North Carolina coach Mack Brown recently told reporters, “There is a fear of, ‘Would we have a season?’ Would we have a partial season? What does a partial season mean?’ There is a great concern because of the remedy that comes in with football.”

“I just told our staff this is like a war. It’s like a natural disaster. We have to treat it as such,” Brown said in a separate interview with CBS Sports.

Asked about the season being impacted, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham told The Athletic, “I think there’s absolutely that possibility, as much as I hate to say it.”

There is no central authority for college football. If there are cancellations, they will likely come ad hoc from the conferences.

Whatever happens, college football is most likely to take its lead from the SEC. Asked directly last week whether a complete season would be played in 2020, commissioner Greg Sankey said, “I’m a half-full person, so I have optimism.”

Twice in the last week, Sankey has referred somewhat cryptically to “contingency plans.” Asked to define those plans on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” Sankey said, “Not yet, simply because the focus is on next year as scheduled. … There will be a time to figure out what that means.”

“I think you always have to have contingency plans as much as possible,” Florida AD Scott Stricklin said. “I’m optimistic [that], because of the dramatic steps everyone’s taken, we’re going to be able to have a sense of normalcy.”

Stricklin raised eyebrows when he previously told the Orlando Sentinel: “[Not playing] will shake the foundation of college athletics. As everyone knows, football pays for the enterprise to go forward.”

One example of the impact: Georgia’s $176 million athletic budget is the sixth-largest in the country. That means football is responsible for $141 million of that total (80 percent).

“If we just had more clarity on when the all-clear horn is going to sound, that certainly helps,” McGarity said. “That’s what nobody really knows right now. It would be irresponsible to say that we feel good about [starting practice] Aug. 1. … You don’t want young people to all the sudden get their hopes up.”

“Mr. College Football” Tony Barnhart has covered the sport for everyone from CBS Sports and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the SEC Network. He is a national voice for college football and a prominent one in the South. For the last 30-plus years, Barnhart has attended the Florida-Georgia game with his fraternity brothers.

When the mere prospect of there not being a season was raised last week, Barnhart said, “My fraternity brothers were not happy. They said, ‘Listen, you can do what you want to do, but you cannot mess with our Florida-Georgia game and don’t mess with college football.'”

“Will we get through it?” he added. “Yes. But the psychological blow of not having a college season in my part of the world would be significant. The thought of not having it would be tough, tough to handle.”

CBS Sports spoke with several coaches and administrators on the subject.

Some were optimistic. “I gotta look at it like we’re going to have a season,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “We’re going to get this thing in.”

Some were whimsical. “I saw somebody said, ‘If you threatened college football season, everybody in the South would lock themselves in their house for two weeks to get it over with,'” Stricklin said. “I kind of feel like we’re not far from that. I think people are really taking it seriously.”

Some were philosophical. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there a lot of realities that are going to result,” McGarity said. “Just like your 401K [and] mine. All the money we saved in our investments are affected.”

Some were matter of fact. “I think we will [play],” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “We’ve got to follow the medical people and what they think. The biggest thing, the scariest thing, is the unknown. They don’t know the full dimension of this.”

Try selling season tickets in these uncertain times. Several schools have extended renewal deadlines for obvious reasons.

“One or two things could drive that [interest] down,” Stricklin said. “One is people don’t think [the season is] going to happen. I don’t think we’re at that point.”

Try raising money for facilities. Florida and Georgia are well down the road in raising funds for building major athletic projects.

Never mind any existing shortfall. There may be issue of re-recruiting donors who have already pledged.

“Those are all gifts,” McGarity said. “They’re not obligated by law to make those gifts come true.”

There is uncertainty everywhere.

For now, we’d all settle for the season coming true. 



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Kevin Durant, Trae Young among stars to participate in televised 16-player NBA 2K tournament Friday

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The NBA has suspended all physical games in an effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but nothing can stop the behemoth that is NBA 2K. With sports fans confined to their homes and video games taking on an important place as a distraction during this pandemic, the NBA has decided to take advantage of the platform to offer fans some semblance of live basketball. Beginning Friday, ESPN will air an NBA 2K tournament featuring 16 players over a 10-day period, the National Basketball Players Association announced on Tuesday

Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant headlines the list of names who will be competing, with Trae Young and Hassan Whiteside rounding out the top three seeds. Seeding of the tournament is based on the player’s 2K ranking, as well as the number of years they’ve been in the league. 

The full list of matchups in order of seeding are:

While fans would undoubtedly prefer to see live basketball, this format has some distinct advantages. Theoretically, players could be mic’d up and trash-talk each other live on camera, something fans get to see very little of during actual television broadcasts of games. It also sends a strong message of social distancing, as basketball courts around the country have been caught on film filled with people. If NBA players are staying home and have found their own alternative to basketball, perhaps others will follow. 

Even if the stakes of such a tournament are mere bragging rights, the idea of live competition featuring professional athletes will be a welcome change of pace in light of recent events. Fans are starved for something resembling professional sports after missing them for several weeks, and if nothing else, this tournament will feature some of their favorite athletes competing against one another at the highest level possible at the moment. From a social distancing perspective, it’s hard to ask for much more during this difficult time. 



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Latest Louisiana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. CDT

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CENTRAL, La. (AP) — Buses and cars filled a Louisiana church parking lot for another service as worshipers flocked to hear a pastor who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban intended to control the new coronavirus.  Some protesters turned out, too, including one man shouting through a bullhorn against the gathering at the Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central. Pastor Tony Spell was issued a summons hours earlier on Tuesday for holding services previously at the church in violation of the governor’s order banning gatherings. Authorities say more than 5,200 people in Louisiana have confirmed virus infections, and 239 state residents have died.

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How will we get our sports news now?

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Covid-19

Sports journalist Jim Kayes was a weekend host for the canned Radio Sport channel – and reckons its demise and cuts to sports reporting nationally can in part be put down to snobbery and neglect.

It was never my plan to cover sport but a busted knee saw it happen.

Through university and then during journalism school it was Liam Jeory I’d admired, the foreign correspondent who reported for TVNZ from hot spots around the world.

With a well-thumbed copy of P.J. O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell beside my bed, it was the dust of foreign fields I wanted to traipse, not muddy sidelines.

After four years as a general reporter I followed my girlfriend, now my wife, overseas to England, busted my knee playing rugby and, when Tim Pankhurst offered me the role of deputy sports editor at the Waikato Times, it was hard, with crutches in hand and a heavy dose of self-pity weighing me down, to say no.

Saying yes was the best thing I ever did.

During 25 years covering sport, however, it’s been evident on an almost daily basis that snobbery reigns in every newsroom.

Sports reporters aren’t seen as the real deal. We aren’t serious and don’t ask “the hard questions”.

It’s ridiculous. A good journo is a good journo and there are plenty of news journos who couldn’t write the news, colour, features and opinion pieces expected of a sports reporter – daily.

Just as silly is the disdain the bosses have for sport until they need it.

Sport is relegated to the back pages and to the end of a TV bulletin, easily chopped when time and space are tight.

On TV, sport is squeezed in ahead of the weather, which is ironic as both are often more talked about than the depressing stuff that takes precedence.

When New Zealand succeeds in sport, the news editors come calling – taking the best angles and interviews for their part of the bulletin or paper.

Sports reporters have been increasingly tied to their desks (trawling through social media feeds it seems). Sure, editors and accountants can argue that good sports journalism is expensive to produce – it costs a lot of money to send someone overseas to cover the All Blacks – and the financial return through advertising is low compared to other sections of the paper and verticals on the website.

But most advertising departments seem hopelessly equipped to sell to a sports audience.

And the fact is, Kiwis love sport.

As popular as Jacinda Ardern is right now, I doubt the Prime Minister would attract 50,000 to Eden Park as the All Blacks do.

If Parliament TV was pay-to-view like a Joseph Parker or Israel Adesanya fight, no one would fork out $50 to watch.

Yet our media bosses hold sport in such low regard. Fairfax has no sports reporters outside the main cities, Mediaworks cut its weekend sports shows on Radio Live at the end of 2018 and Radio Sport has just been taken off air.

Sadly, there are going to be significant cuts to the New Zealand Herald’s sports department too, leaving what was once one of the best newsrooms in the country so bare that office cricket will be impossible to play.

If we are a country of sports lovers then someone needs to tell the bosses at our media companies.Or perhaps we need to tell the public, because, ultimately, media bosses slash and burn by numbers and though Radio Sport may have done better if it had a nationwide FM frequency, it’s hard to sustain a station when there is no live sport, advertisers are leaving and no one seems to be listening.

I hosted The Weekender on Radio Sport last weekend for the final time.

On Saturday, my interviews included NZOC boss Kereyn Smith, former All Blacks captain Kieran Read, Olympians Tom Walsh and Gemma McCaw and cricketer-turned-commentator Ian Smith.

On Sunday I chatted with golfer Ryan Fox, cricketer Jimmy Neesham, boxer Joseph Parker, Black Ferns captain Kendra Cocksedge and All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan.

On any weekend, I’d be delighted with that. On a weekend when there was no live sport I was extremely proud. During those six hours of radio I got one call from the public. One call. (And that bloke called to give me a website where people in lockdown can play golf at home.)

It’s tempting to blame the bosses for the decline of sports departments but Kiwi apathy has been slowly killing us for a long time.

Part of that is an industry problem.

Sports reporters are – predominantly – middle aged white men who focus on rugby and cricket, with a bit of league and netball grudgingly thrown in. When you add in the increasing influence of analytics in the newsroom, the focus on the big two sports has only been exacerbated. Sports reporters have been actively discouraged from covering minor sports with low readership pickup.

I like to think my shows have been reasonably diverse but when the callers did ring it was to argue about rugby or cricket: men’s rugby and cricket.

So, what now for the future of sports broadcasting?

Few expect Radio Sport to return. Trackside Radio could fill the gap but the TAB has other issues to deal with first.

The big one is Sky Sport. If Sky falls then free-to-air companies like TVNZ may step in to cover some of the big sports – and they may be asked to as a way to offload some of Sky’s costs and keep the company afloat.

But if Sky did fail then a lot of sports will suffer in the process as Sky (like the TAB) plays sugar daddy to many sports.

Reports on Sky’s condition vary but no one is hiding from the fact these are extremely tough times for the broadcaster. It may return to full health as it was before, it may change to become more a producer of content and less of a broadcaster, or it could be bought out – a tasty option for some, given Sky’s share price.

Regardless, many sports, especially the big ones, will bolster their media departments when normality returns and go to their fans directly. Social media allows that.

Lots of minor sports already broadcast via Facebook and with 4.6 million followers on that platform seems, it an easy one for the All Blacks to strut their stuff on too.

Players are already ignoring mainstream media and going directly to their fans, and many of the top athletes have a tally of followers in excess of all of New Zealand’s media combined.

Adensanya has 2.4 million followers on Instagram. Why would he stoop to talking to the New Zealand media when he can get his message out unfiltered on Instagram? Though, to be fair to the man, he does frequently talk to the MSM.

Sonny Bill Williams has 896,000 followers on Twitter and 973,000 on Instagram; Beauden Barrett has 100,600 and 560,000; and Ardie Savea 38,000 and 273,000.

They no longer need me or any other sports journalist to help them say it.

Radio Sport’s demise has been blamed on Covid-19 but that’s a bit too convenient. The earlier decision to low-ball New Zealand Cricket for that sport’s commentary rights was a stark indicator that the station was already wobbling.

All the virus did was give NZME an excuse to swing the axe.

They won’t be the last big media company to do so.



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