BLOOMINGTON — After initial frustration and disappointment, Big Ten college football coaches are finally coming to terms with the prospect of a spring schedule.
How would it look? Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, for one, has some ideas. Brohm unveiled a detailed, nine-page proposal on how spring football could work Thursday, complete with practice plans and built-in rest periods that would result in less wear and tear on student-athletes playing the spring and following fall 2021 seasons.
Under Brohm’s plan, an eight-week, eight-game season would run from Feb. 27 through April 17 with no bye weeks. The schedule would consist either of six divisional games and two crossover games, or six division games, one crossover game and one seeded game determined by conference standings. Playoffs could run between May 1 and May 15 with various formats incorporating the Big Ten Championship Game and The Rose Bowl.
Preseason camp would run from Jan. 16 through Feb. 26, with 16 hours of non-contact work from Jan. 16-29, and a maximum of two padded practices per week from Jan. 29 through Feb. 26. Only one padded practice would be allowed per week during the season.
To recover for the following season, Brohm calls for a mandatory three months off from April 18 through July 18. A four-week training camp would start Sept. 4 and a 10-game season with one bye week would run from Oct. 2 through Dec. 11.
Based on Brohm’s calculations, the combined two seasons under his plan would result in significantly less practices in pads – 64 vs. 144 for bowl teams and 52 vs. 114 non-bowl teams.
In conflicting with college basketball, Brohm suggested playing Saturday football games and Sunday college basketball games.
Recovery time is one of the concerns in trying to pull a college football spring season off. So is the NFL Draft, which is scheduled from April 29-May 1, 2021.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day is calling for the season to start even earlier, the first week in January, and to play eight or nine games to ensure the season ends before the draft starts. Day is worried many of the NFL draft prospects on his roster, most notably starting quarterback Justin Fields, would choose to skip a spring season to prepare for the draft.
Already, a number of high-profile Big Ten players opted to skip the fall season over pandemic concerns and to prepare for the draft, most notably Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore and Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
But despite the worry about potential defections, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz thinks a spring season remains possible.
“We can do anything we want if we do it intelligently,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got to first and foremost, like everything else, think about our players, what’s best for them. But I think it’s totally doable. We may be playing in some colder games, but we were looking at that in December anyway if we had slid the schedule we’ve played. In the Midwest, we’ve played in cold games. That’s not the biggest issue in the word.”
Not long after the Big Ten unveiled its plan to allow a spring football season, social media erupted in a flurry of responses from players and fans alike unpleased with the option.
Wisconsin safety Eric Burrell took to Twitter to question how realistic playing a spring season and engaging in yet another season within 12 months could be.
“Let’s be honest everyone.... do they actually think we can do spring competition and couple months later fall??? #Falsehope,” Burrell tweeted.
Former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer during an interview on the Big Ten Network on Tuesday afternoon, too, scoffed at the possibility.
“No chance,” Meyer said. “You can’t ask a player to play two seasons within the calendar year. When I first heard that, I said, ‘I don’t see that happening.’ The body, in my very strong opinion, is not made to play two seasons within one calendar year.”
Should the Big Ten indeed proceed with a spring start to its football season, it will likely be abbreviated, and teams could see their previously scheduled 10-game slate whittled down.
As Meyer also alluded in his interview Tuesday, players would be subjected to additional in-game contact, whereas they would otherwise be using the spring period to recover from the impact sustained during a regular season.
The additional contact incurred during a spring season could pose greater health risks should players begin another football season in the fall.
In addition to Fields, a number of other high-profile Big Ten players could choose to skip the spring for the NFL draft, including Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson.
The spring football season could unintentionally pose such players with an unwanted scenario.
“We recruited players at Ohio State who had the chance to earn a living and play the game and be rewarded for their great effort, and you’re going to ask them to play spring football, and then, by the day, go miss (organized team activities) and not prepare to go train and play professional football?” Meyer said. “That’s not fair.”
Logistically, football in the spring could pose challenges to Big Ten teams in terms of weather.
Geographically, the league’s southern-most school is Indiana, while its northern-most team is Minnesota. While no Big Ten team plays in a dome, Penn State coach James Franklin earlier this week when lobbying for a delay, rather than a postponement of the season, offered a suggestion that included using the domed pro stadiums in the conference’s footprint to combat the inclement weather.
“We have the ability to use the domes in the Big Ten – the weather’s a little bit of an issue,” Franklin said during an appearance on ESPN Get Up. “We can use the domes in Detroit, in Minnesota, in Indianapolis and do Big Ten weekends at those venues from a weather perspective.”
Ultimately, the decision to resume football will depend on the status of the COVID-19 virus, which reported more than 55,000 new cases in the United States on Wednesday and is showing no signs of slowing down. Some have suggested using the domed stadiums as bubble sites, pointing to the success of the NBA restart inside its bubble at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex.
A number of factors between now and January, including the discovery of a vaccine, treatment advances and more rapid testing technology, could make playing games safer in the spring and even allow more fans to attend games.
The NCAA has provided an emergency eligibility remedy, as the Division I advisory group has recommended giving fall student-athletes an extra year of eligibility if they participate in 50% or less of the maximum number of competitions allowed in each sport by NCAA rules. That could encourage some football players to stay and play this spring.
The NCAA hasn’t made a ruling yet on whether early enrollees in January would be eligible for spring football games, but it would take a special 17- to 18-year-old player to be ready for that level of competition coming off a high school season.
“A lot of fall sports have been affected, too, in high schools, so there may be more early enrollees than ever,” Ferentz said. “All of these things are unprecedented, everything that is going on right now. I think as we look forward in the coming months, those are questions for all of us that are going to have to get answered.”