Three of ESPN’s top college football experts said Thursday they remain hopeful there will be college football in a recognizable form this fall, despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
College GameDay host Rece Davis, broadcast analyst Todd Blackledge and college football writer Ivan Maisel were among 16 coaches and media personalities who participated in the annual L’Arche Football Preview Dinner, which streamed live Thursday night. Each shared various motivational stories and other anecdotes, and also weighed in on how college football on the field and in the stadium might be affected this fall.
“I’m hoping that we will have a season and my gut feeling is that we will play,” said Blackledge, a former Penn State and NFL quarterback and one of ESPN’s top game analysts. “Obviously, safety is going to be the main priority for the players, the coaches, the staffs, the people that would be coming to the games. That’s going to be first and foremost. … Whether it looks the same or looks a little bit different, that’s to-be-determined. Is it going to start on time? Or all conferences and schools going to start at the same time? Will they play only conference games or a full schedule? Nobody knows the answers to those things. Will there be full crowds, half-crowds, no crowds? I don’t know. But I do think they’ll play.”
College football programs have been shut down since mid-March, resulting in the cancelation of most or all of spring practice. Some conferences — including the SEC — have given the green light for players to begin returning to campus in June for limited strength & conditioning work, though when and how full football activities resume remains unclear.
Maisel is one of college football’s top historians, and has written extensively on the game’s early days. He said he envisions college football in 2020 being very much like it was during World War II, when most programs played reduced scheduled and suspended the sport entirely due to travel and manpower shortages.
“The national college football scene in 2020 will be unlike any we’ve seen before, unless you’re about 80 years old,” Maisel said. “To me, this season is going to resemble college football in the years during World War II — in the sense that I think some schools will play, some schools will suspend play, some schools will play shortened schedules, and some schools will play full schedules. As to who they are, that might be a shifting thing. What happens if a school gets hit with the virus during the season, and it takes a big chunk out of the locker-room? I hope we don’t see that, but I think it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. People have written, and used to reminisce fondly about college football during the war as a wonderful respite for everyone during a fraught time. And of course, college football will serve that role next fall. It’s just, to me, that we’re all going to have to understand that it might not be exactly what we’re used to.”
Davis was in agreement with Blackledge and Maisel that there would be football this fall, but is also unsure what form it might take. But he remains optimistic, and illustrated that belief with a story about long-time ESPN analyst Lee Corso, Davis’ colleague on College GameDay.
The GameDay crew visited Penn State some years ago, and fellow analyst Kirk Herbstreit had the idea for Corso to join the Nittany Lion mascot in crowd-surfing up to the stage as the show opened. But as air time approached, both Davis, the GameDay director and campus security began to worry that they might be putting the 80-something-year-old Corso unnecessarily in harm’s way.
“About 90 seconds to air, our director is in my ear saying ‘security is saying no-go.’ They don’t want to run the risk of losing control of where he is,’” Davis said. “Sixty seconds to air I say ‘hey coach … we’re scrapping.’ To which LC responds ‘hell no, sweetheart, we’re doing it!’ So that’s my hope for college football. We’re doing it — hopefully safely, hopefully with the most people involved, in the manner that falls in line with the leadership and guidance of all our medical professionals and elected leaders. Hopefully, we will have a football season … and get to ride that football vehicle this fall.”
Blackledge, Maisel, Davis and the other speakers appeared in support of L’Arche Mobile, a Christian community where people with and without intellectual disabilities live, work and share their lives together. Because of COVID-19, the live banquet was replaced with an online presentation that was free to watch.