COVID-19 has had a profound impact on everyday lives for what seems like an eternity. The virus has especially devastated universities and their student bodies, many of which rely on sports for various reasons — the largest being money. For most schools, the most celebrated sport is football, an industry that rakes in billions of dollars annually. Due to the unprecedented circumstances of the novel coronavirus, the typical college football we are used to watching (and sometimes screaming at) has changed dramatically over the past year.
The largest implication the virus has taken on college football (CFB) is the absence of fans. When you think of football, you imagine stadiums filled with thousands of loud, rowdy college students, all dressed in their team colors. Some students live for college football and many of them take it way too seriously. Home field advantage has played a massive factor in crucial games and certain crowds, such as Penn State’s, have previously been able to disrupt plays and throw off opponents’ timing due to the noise level. As Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book said, “Fans make a huge difference, especially when you’re playing in a rivalry game on the biggest stage. It will certainly be odd to look up into the stands and see no one there.” This year, the billion-dollar industry has been decimated due to the minimal attendance policies the universities have put into place, and the players have certainly missed the usual rowdiness of fans.
The virus has also shaken up team schedules quite a bit. In CFB, there are five major conferences, otherwise known as the Power Five — the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12. In July, the conferences began announcing their plans for the fall. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 decided to play conference-only schedules, meaning they could only play a select few teams within their conference; however, the Big Ten and Pac-12 agreed to postpone their games until the spring in hopes of lighter implications. Later in the fall, after seeing the success of other conferences and even pressure coming from President Donald Trump, the Big 10 and Pac 12 voted to let their teams play an abbreviated schedule. While most teams were ecstatic to be back on the field, many feared playing without star players who had opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. This significantly affected teams like Oregon and Penn State, whose records have suffered considerable blows due to the loss of key players.
When the conferences were forming their schedules, they made sure to leave room for the postponement of games out of the possibility of players testing positive for COVID-19. This was a smart decision, as game cancellations have been frequent this fall. Many CFB fans didn’t think the season would make it past the first month or so, but the precautions set in place have allowed teams to move games if necessary. Almost every team has experienced a cancellation or postponement of a game, with some having multiple games rescheduled; however, one team has been impacted more severely than the others — Ohio State. For those that don’t know, Ohio State is a powerhouse in CFB — they are almost always a contender for the national title. As a member of the Big Ten, they were supposed to play an eight-game schedule, but cancellations have limited that to six and possibly five games. These cancellations have sprung the CFB world into chaos; many argue that their lack of games played isn’t enough to get them into the College Football Playoff, while others say their historically impressive resume should be enough.
Even as the United States is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases, college football seems to be rolling along smoothly. The regular season is set to conclude, and it will be interesting to see how ‘bowl season’ handles upcoming challenges.