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Sports >  NCAA football

Matt Calkins: With its own set of challenges, Pac-12’s idea of playing college football in spring won’t be as easy as it sounds

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 17, 2020

Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods heads to the locker room following the second half of the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 27 at Chase Field in Phoenix.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods heads to the locker room following the second half of the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 27 at Chase Field in Phoenix. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – College football in the spring. The idea once seemed preposterous, but is now touted as possible.

As depressing as news of the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceling their fall football seasons due to coronavirus concerns was to fans, the concept of college football bridging the gap between the conclusion of the NFL and start of Major League Baseball next year is enticing. Would it work, though?

It’s easy to discuss this notion in theory, but there are several questions that must be addressed before a “spring” season (it could very well be in the winter) can take place.

Questions such as …

Would the best players play?

Ohio State coach Ryan Day recently pitched an eight-game season that would start in early January and end in March. The problem is that the NFL combine has traditionally taken place in late February. It’s not uncommon for top-tier players to skip bowl games in order to preserve their bodies for the combine. It would seem equally reasonable to skip a spring season.

New Washington coach Jimmy Lake said he has had conversations with his players about this topic. He added that he’s heard talk that the NFL might move the combine back. But that’s hardly definitive – especially if the NFL carries out its season as planned. I suspect that if there was college football in January 2021, many of the best guys would sit out.

Would spring football really be better for players’ health?

Purdue coach Jeff Brohm pitched an eight-game spring season that would be played from late February to early May, followed by a 10-game fall season from early October to January. That would mean 18 games in less than 12 months, and that’s not including any potential playoff matchups.

In an interview with the Big Ten Network, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said there was “no chance” for spring football based on the physical demands.

“You can’t ask a player to play two seasons in a calendar year,” Meyer said. “When I first heard that, I said that. I don’t see that happening. The body, in my very strong opinion, is not made to play two seasons in a calendar year.”

And what about the coronavirus? Doctors have talked before about a “second wave” coming in colder months, would student-athletes be more at risk?

On Friday, Rob Scheidegger, Washington’s associate athletic director for health and wellness/head football athletic trainer, was asked what the Pac-12 would need to see in order to go through with spring football.

He mentioned a decreased disease prevalence in Pac-12 cities, which was a key factor in the conference shutting down football in the first place. He discussed immediate testing availability, which would be a “game-changer” going forward. And he talked about the need to safely bring back student-athletes who may have contracted the virus in their communities.

“We have to make sure that we have the answer for our student-athletes when they’re coming back and participating in high-level athletic activities and high-intensity athletic activities,” Scheidegger said.

What about staffing?

This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but it was an interesting point raised by Paul Myerberg of USA Today. Remember, it’s not just football that would be taking place in the spring, it could be most or all college sports.

Between weight-room sharing, or the training and medical staff being overworked, problems could arise.

This isn’t a recommendation against going for it in the spring. It is simply acknowledging the reality that numerous challenges exist.

At this point, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are still planning to play football this fall. If they do go forward, would they be willing to truncate or delay their 2021 seasons to accommodate the Pac-12 and Big Ten?

From eligibility to transfer rules to everything mentioned above, there are copious issues that must be addressed.

Can it be done? Maybe.

Will it be easy? Not even close.

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