The SEC and College Football Playoff need to act now

Team flags at outside at SEC Media days

The SEC is the best and most powerful conference in college football. SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer created the SEC Championship Game in 1992. Six years later, he created the Bowl Championship Series.

By Matt Zemek

When college football does something big which changes the game, the SEC is often present at the creation.

You can look around and see how badly the SEC’s region is getting hammered by COVID-19. We’re not assigning fault or blame here; the coronavirus simply hasn’t been contained yet. Progress on a vaccine appears to be real, thank God, but the process of arriving at a proven, safe, effective vaccine still has many months left, and that doesn’t even include the process of being able to distribute the vaccine at scale to the whole population. We’re going to have to get through the winter months without a vaccine. By the spring of 2021, we could conceivably be in position to receive it and achieve the breakthrough which can get us to that place we call “Normalville.”

Normalville, like Pleasantville or Respiteville or Reliefville, is the place we all want to go… but we’re not there yet. Accordingly, we can’t yet act or carry on with a fully normal life.

Is it frustrating? Yes, to no end.

LSU Football StadiumWill that lack of normalcy be immensely painful during the upcoming holiday season? Yes, it will be. If you believe in God, this is a time to trust your faith and know that adversity is a temporary thing, and that with strength and support, we can endure and eventually overcome what currently gives us fear and anxiety.

Yet, having faith in the future doesn’t mean one should be overly stubborn or reckless in the present moment. There’s a virus for which we don’t yet have a vaccine. The weather is getting cold. We’re approaching that time of year when more people will be coughing or sneezing. It’s just not a time to think we can do things exactly the way we’re used to doing them. This won’t be a normal holiday season. We don’t have to like that, but we sure have to accept it, with hospital bed capacities filling up rapidly and case numbers and positivity rates rising for COVID-19 across the country (not just in the South).

If we’re going to have an abnormal holiday season, we need to realize that this bowl season isn’t going to be normal, either. With four SEC games – Texas A&M at Tennessee, Alabama at LSU, Georgia at Missouri, and Auburn at Mississippi State – being removed from this week’s slate, we have reached a point where, under the current schedule framework, games will be canceled, not just postponed, if more COVID-19 disruptions occur.

If the SEC wants to insist on having a Dec. 19 SEC Championship Game, which is connected to the College Football Playoff’s insistence on January 1 semifinals, SEC games will be wiped away.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can still play every SEC game this year. The conference can get as much TV money as possible. Alabama and LSU in particular can still play on CBS. SEC teams in the hunt for the College Football Playoff (Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M) can all play their full allotment of games and not elicit questions about the integrity of the playoff selection process.

It can all still happen.

However, the College Football Playoff has to see sense and get off its dime.

In a normal year, we all want January 1 semifinals and a January 1 Rose Bowl. In a normal year, this is exactly how we would want college football to be.

This isn’t a normal year, though.

Enough.

Missouri Tiger mascotThis isn’t hard. Let’s remove the fixed dates for the playoff semis. Let’s also not insist on having playoff teams travel to neutral sites. Let’s have on-campus semis (remember, with reduced fans, the notion of a huge home-field advantage is diminished if not completely wiped out), so that the number of plane flights is reduced. The folks at Texas A&M think their COVID-19 complications are connected to air travel, which is a big reason families need to stay home at Thanksgiving and Christmas. All bowls – not just the playoff semifinals, not just the New Year’s Six, but all bowls – should be moving to on-campus sites. They aren’t going to sell many if any tickets to begin with; being on television is the main thing for them and ESPN.

This isn’t hard.

Just move back the bowls. Don’t have a specific date. Push back the season a few weeks so that the SEC and the other conferences can make up all their regular-season games.

If we have a title game on February 11 instead of January 11, is that so bad? Is that a crisis or catastrophe? Why would it be? Everyone gets to play all their games, everyone claws back as much money as possible under these limited circumstances. Alabama gets to play LSU on CBS, so Black Rock gets to broadcast that showcase and gain some advertising dollars. ESPN gets to televise its bowl games – no, not in that desired week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but it still gets those games on its airwaves and streaming platforms.

Ole Miss football players 3No one ever said this was going to be an ideal situation in which everyone got exactly what they wanted. It’s a pandemic. Adjustments and sacrifices have to be made. Limitations have to be acknowledged.

College Football Playoff officials have to scrap their January 1-and-11 schedule. Let’s play regular-season games in January if we have to. Put the semifinals – potentially – on the Saturday before the NFL’s conference championship games, with the title game two Saturdays later.

It’s not the best outcome, but it’s better than keeping the January 1 semifinals in place, which creates a rushed and premature end to the season instead of allowing more time to complete makeup games and give teams more of a chance at playing full (not really full, of course, but full 10-game seasons under these adjusted circumstances).

Come on, College Football Playoff. Remove the fixed January 1 semifinal dates. Allow the SEC and the other conferences to complete their regular seasons. We can wait two to four weeks to finish the season at a later date. No one gets hurt. The world doesn’t end if the playoff can’t stage its semifinals on New Year’s Day.

We’ll survive.

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