The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This strange college football season could have lasting effects

Fans and traditional rivalries will return, but cuts to athletic programs may be permanent.

Ohio State takes the field before its season-opening football game against Nebraska on Saturday. The teams are part of the Big Ten conference, which canceled its games because of the coronavirus then reversed that decision and agreed to play a shortened season. Some colleges aren’t playing football at all this year. These decisions — which mean less money from ticket sales and TV contracts — have caused some colleges to cut other varsity sports. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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A glance at the college football rankings will tell you that 2020 has been a strange year.

The usual powerhouse teams are at the top. Clemson is rated Number 1 with a record of 6-0 (six wins, zero losses). Alabama is ranked second with a 5-0 mark.

But look closer and you’ll see third-ranked Ohio State has played only one game. Look further and there are two teams in the Top 25 — the University of Oregon and the University of Southern California — that haven’t played a single game.

The sad fact is that the coronavirus pandemic has had a big effect on college football.

At first, the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences decided not to play football this fall. However, three so-called Power Five conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference — chose to play. The teams in those conferences decided to play slightly shorter schedules against mostly conference foes.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 reversed their decisions. Big Ten teams started their eight-game, in-conference seasons last weekend. The Pac-12 teams will begin their seasons November 7 and will play only a seven-game schedule.

So the Power Five conferences, as well as some other college teams, are playing football this season, but many things will be different.

According to CBS Sports, there were more than 30 games that had been postponed or canceled through the middle of October because of the virus. With the coronavirus cases rising in most of the country, expect more games to be postponed or canceled.

With teams playing shorter schedules, some games will be “missing” this season. For example, Notre Dame has played Navy every year since 1927. This season, the two teams had planned to play the game in Dublin, Ireland. The game, however, is canceled. The rivalry will resume (hopefully) in 2021.

At least the traditional Army-Navy game will be played. But even the 121st game in that series will be different. Recently, the game has been played in large stadiums such as Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since no one is playing in front of large crowds because of the virus, the 2020 game will be played at Michie Stadium on the campus of West Point, the Army’s military academy in New York.

This strange season, with many schools not playing or playing before smaller crowds, may affect college football and other college sports for years. College football teams generate the money — through tickets, merchandise and sometimes TV contracts — that often pays for other sports at their schools. So some schools, including Stanford, William & Mary, University of Iowa and others, have cut back on “smaller” sports such as swimming, gymnastics and volleyball.

Maybe schools should be finding ways for more students to play sports and stay fit rather than pouring more money into their football programs.

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