The 2021 college football season holds the promise of a return to normal after a fall triggered by a pandemic that resulted in cancellations, postponements and headaches after headaches.
The games are launched. The supporters are preparing to return to the stadiums. College sports are entering a new era, with less restrictive transfer rules and players allowed for the first time to be paid by endorsers.
And the pandemic is not over. While there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that this season won’t be the wrestling that 2020 has been, there is still more than a little bit of uncertainty about how it all plays out. – on and off the field as the No.1 Alabama tries to win a second straight national title against numerous challengers.
“It’s an interesting time,” said North Carolina coach Mack Brown.
Is it ever.
The season is launched, unchanged at this point, with all the conferences on board, unlike last year at this time. Vaccination rates among college football teams appear to be significantly higher than those of the general adult population.
Last season, 118 Bowl Division games were canceled or postponed as teams battled COVID-19. There will be no rescheduling of games in 2021. Conferences said teams will be forced to forfeit if they cannot field a team due to COVID-19 issues.
Health and safety protocols are still not uniform in all major college football, but the common ground is this: Unlike last year, when everyone was frequently tested for the virus, only players unvaccinated and team personnel will be subjected to routine surveillance tests. Only unvaccinated individuals will be automatically quarantined if they come into contact with someone infected with the virus.
“It gives us a competitive edge in my mind, because we shouldn’t miss any time as a football team because of COVID,” new Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said before the school went. proudly tweets that the team had achieved 100% vaccination status.
Many coaches have publicly encouraged the vaccination.
“I think it is irresponsible not to get the vaccine,” said Ole coach Miss Lane Kiffin, whose team are also 100% vaccinated.
Not all coaches take this approach. Nick Rolovich of Washington state first said he had no plans to get the vaccine on a campus where it is mandatory for all students and employees before saying he would comply. .
Where the pandemic could have a deeper impact is with the fans. The number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths is increasing. But schools have touted the return of full capacity stadiums and tailgating after a season of playing in mostly empty buildings.
“I’m really excited, man, just to finally come back to the swamp with 90,000 screams over there,” Florida defensive end Zach Carter said.
Those plans seem unlikely to change unless local governments step in, which happened in Hawaii last week. The Rainbow Warriors’ opener against Portland State on September 5 will be played without fans.
Oregon and the state of Oregon became the first Power Five schools to announce that fans will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend their games.
“I think the disruptions that players have had to deal with, and may still have to deal with in the future compared to where we are now, (are) probably something that helps them to be a bit more resilient,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
The NCAA has frozen the eligibility of every football player who played under the uncertainty of the pandemic last season, essentially giving them another year to play if they wanted to.
The result is that hundreds of players who would otherwise have had no choice but to move on after 2020 will be back in 2021. Call them super seniors, and they won’t count towards the purse limit of 85. D other players are back after opting out of 2020.
Longtime Utah coach Kyle Whittingham described his roster, packed with very experienced players, as “the most unique since I’ve been a football coach.”
Then there are the transfers.
After an NCAA rule change in the spring, football players can now transfer once and be immediately eligible to play. For decades, transfer players had to abstain from their first season after changing schools. This has led to more player movements than ever before.
“The transfer portal changed everything. The comeback of the super seniors changed everything, ”said Brown.
The NCAA lifted the ban on college athletes earning money from their names, pictures and likenesses on July 1, and football players immediately began to cash in.
Quarterbacks endorse fast food and offensive linemen promote barbecues. In Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas, players will earn money from the sale of jerseys.
Every Miami soccer player has been offered a deal to earn $ 500 per month to promote a local gym, and a Utah-based business will pay tuition equivalent to each visit to BYU to promote their protein bars. and its snacks.
Saban said Bryce Young, Alabama’s next starting quarterback, has NIL deals lined up that could be worth $ 1 million.
There are concerns about how all this money will affect team culture, competitive balance and corruption, but varsity sport is mostly trying to embrace change.
Two of college sport’s biggest stories will take place off the field this season.
A plan to expand the college football qualifiers from four to 12 teams is in the works. There still seems to be support, but the addition planned by the Southeastern Texas and Oklahoma Conference in 2025 appears to have leaders from other conferences stepping down to get the big picture.
“There is a lot about the current playoff expansion proposal that is good,” said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, an unequivocal expansionist. “The real question is the details of this. The details have unfortunately been worked out with a subset of people who need to sign. The result is that not all details have been covered and all concerns have not been addressed. “
The next CFP directors meeting is scheduled for September 28 in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is shrinking, starting with a rewrite of its constitution this fall. The result could be a national structure for college football that is shaped more than ever by conferences.
Put it all together and college football is in the midst of a dizzying period of change. As for the immediate future, it looks better to say the least than last year.