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What will a spring 2021 NCAA season look like?

Camp Randall Stadium

What will a spring 2021 NCAA season look like, now that the Big Ten and Pac-12 conference have canceled their fall football seasons? Nothing is firm, but some league coaches and ADs already have expressed some thoughts.

Everyone has been so wrapped up in discussions of the fall 2020 NCAA football season and postponements to 2021 that an actual discussion of what that 2021 season would look like has been muted, at best. For many schools, the spring semester begins in the middle of January and runs through mid-May.

Of course, no Big Ten school will want to be playing football in January, February or even most of March: it’s too cold and snowy, and there are practical considerations in play here when it comes to field conditions and turf conditions. Yes, covered NFL stadiums in Minnesota and Indianapolis could be pressed into service to host some games, but after so many disruptions, moving games isn’t seen as a solution–yet.

And there’s another practical consideration: everyone is assuming that the fall 2021 NCAA football season will be a return to normalcy, with the COVID-19 virus dying down and a vaccine in circulation. For many football players and coaches, the thought of a two-season schedule in one calendar year is a little daunting: players need the offseason to rest and recuperate.

That’s why the University of Wisconsin head coach Paul Cryst and UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez say they’re not expecting a full Big Ten season next spring:

“(Chryst) said two full seasons back-to-back like that is too much. So, taking that into consideration, my natural thinking is six, eight games, something like that, if you do something this spring,” Alvarez said. Alvarez said any plan to play in the spring wouldn’t be a full season.

In a separate Zoom teleconference Tuesday, Chryst suggested that a spring schedule could look like NFL preseason games, but any decision on spring games needs to be tied to the structure of the fall season in 2021.

“The first thing you’ve got to answer is, ‘What do you want the fall to look like?’” Chryst said. “I think there’s some things you could do in the spring. You could do some games against other opponents, almost like preseason games in the NFL, play against teams you’ve never played against before and have great matchups.”

And look for stars to bail from college football. We’ve already seen University of Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman opt out of his senior year, deciding instead to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. A player like Bateman has the track record to impress scouts, and others in his category will undoubtedly sit out a spring 2021 NCAA season.

The point is: a spring 2021 NCAA season postponed from 2020 won’t look the same. Expect lots of cutbacks and scaled-down offerings, and we all will live with the fact that it’s a transitional time, with the real football season resuming in the fall.

RELATED STORIES: Pac-12 postpones all sports until end of 2020; Big Ten postpones 2020 football season to spring 2021Mountain West postpones 2020 football season; MAC postpones 2020 football season; Power 5 may follow suit2020 college football season in flux; New 2020 SEC schedule: delayed season start, conference-only games; Big Ten cuts nonconference games from 2020 football season; Could 2020 college football season be delayed to spring 2021?; More schools announce in-person fall semesters as planning for NCAA football season continues; Surprise: We may see NCAA football this fallEmmert: Colleges need to open before NCAA sports resumeTrump: 2020 NFL season should start in September

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