News broke Monday that the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced that it will move its football season to the spring and delay basketball until January. This is huge as they become the first conference, league or football entity to flat out move it’s season. All across the various levels of the NCAA schools have canceled seasons with HBCU Hampton being the latest and conferences such as the Ivy League and Patriot League canceling their season altogether. Other conferences such as the PAC 12 and BIG 10 have moved to conference-only games. With so much up in the air would it benefit the NCAA to consider doing the same?
For smaller programs, this could be a godsend. Mid-major programs in conferences such as the MAC, Sun Belt, and C-USA depend on “money games” against Power Five opponents to help pay the bills. With the BIG 10 going to conference only MAC school’s Ball State and Central Michigan stand to lose over a million dollars about 10% of their budgets. That’s a grim reality for a good portion of programs. Contrary to popular belief football programs are a money drain for a lot of schools. It caused the University of Idaho to become the first FBS team to drop to FCS. It also is the reason why schools such as New Mexico State and Eastern Michigan (prior to their recent success) also looked into a move down. That’s just at the mid-major level. Power Five schools have already had coaches take pay cuts (Florida State Head Coach Jay Norvell is taking a 25% cut) and Stanford had to cut 11 athletic programs due to budget cuts.
Not only that a lot of Power Five programs need those games. For a new coaching staff or a young team an opportunity to get game reps and work the bugs out before conference play. As somebody who has covered the MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) one of the premier Division II conferences for the past three seasons, there are no non-conference games. All 11 games are conference which leaves little room for error. Also, consider the loss of gameday revenue. Schools like OU, Alabama, Penn State, and many others fill 100,000 seat stadiums every Saturday. That’s a lot of money coming in and that’s not counting concession or merchandise revenue.
Let’s look at the effect this move has on recruiting. According to the NJCAA, their plan allows for football practices from Aug. 15 through Nov. 15 with three outside scrimmages allowed. However, the timing of actual games that can’t start until March 25 is almost two months after National Signing Day and a week before the period ends altogether. How in the world would this work? Coaches would be taking flyers on guys either based on scrimmage tape, previous tape (if a player has any), or word of mouth. Keep in mind these are guys coaches count on for immediate impact not development for the long haul. The simple answer to this is obviously for the NCAA to follow suit but since the NCAA rarely does anything easy unless it benefits their bottom line the complicated option would be to adjust the recruiting period.
Finally, I’ll address the elephant in the room with this idea. What about March Madness? One of the great yearly events in sports March Madness is a huge deal. However, if you look at the NJCAA’s plan basketball games wouldn’t start until January with practices being allowed from Sep. 15 through Dec. 15 with five scrimmages allowed. That doesn’t jive with a March tournament. Either do conferences who have already said they aren’t playing any sports until the fall. You can’t have a full field without every conference champion. While the focus has been on college football this is another issue on the horizon. One that could be solved by following the NJCAA’s model.
Push everything back and hope, hope for the best.