Bob Dunning: The clock ticks down on college fall sports
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Bob Dunning: The clock ticks down on college fall sports

Every time I put my ear to the ground in an attempt to determine whether or not there will be a college football season this fall, all I hear is another domino falling.

First it was the Big Ten that decided to go to a conference-only schedule, killing with one blow such juicy early-season matchups as Ohio State-Oregon.

Then it was the Pac-12 that decided to play follow the leader by also going to a conference-only format (goodbye Alabama-USC). That decision also knocked out an incredibly intriguing season opener in Eugene between the mighty Ducks and perennial FCS national champion North Dakota State.

You can say that what the big boys do with their schedules doesn’t affect programs one level down in the FCS, but when it comes to nonconference games, the trickle down effect is more like Multnomah Falls.

Portland State, which competes in the same Big Sky Conference with UC Davis, lost two “money” games overnight with Oregon State ($400,000) and Arizona ($550,000). My friends in Oregon tell me that the nearly $1 million hit from those two games might be enough to sideline the Viking program for good.

Our friends across The Causeway at Sacramento State were expected to bring 凯发体育官方sporthome $625,000 along with a lopsided loss for playing the Washington Huskies, Cal Poly would have earned a similar amount and similar fate for playing Cal, Montana State was set for a $675,000 payday at Utah, and Idaho was waiting for the ink to dry on a $550,000 check from Washington State.

Northern Arizona, meanwhile, would have headed 凯发体育官方sporthome from Arizona State with a $518,186 check in its back pocket, almost enough to cover the $546,530 combined salaries of its coaching staff.

UCD’s paydays for venturing into the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2020 are a bit more modest — $375,000 for the Aug. 29 season opener at Nevada and $400,000 for a Sept. 12 date at San Jose State.

The difference between the Aggies and their Big Sky brethren mentioned above is that UCD’s games are still on the schedule because they’re against Mountain West teams, not the Pac-12.

Then again, if you were a betting man, you could make some serious money by wagering that the Mountain West will soon announce that it is going the conference-only route as well.

After all, MWC member Hawaii just had its first four games of the season wiped out against Arizona, UCLA, Fordham and Oregon. Perhaps the only way it can salvage its season is with a conference-only schedule.

Brigham Young, which operates as one of this country’s few independents, has already lost five games off its 12-game 2020 schedule after cancellations from Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota and Stanford.

Notre Dame, another independent, is down to nine games after defections from Wisconsin, USC and Stanford.

Another independent, struggling New Mexico State, which has a winning season about as often as a Republican presidential candidate carries California, figures to lose $1.2 million after UCLA pulled out, and perhaps another $1.5 million from a game at Florida if the SEC goes the way of the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.

When all sports were canceled last March, the college football season seemed in deep trouble.

Then, however, the coronavirus numbers started an encouraging downward trend and schools began to talk seriously about playing in the fall after all — perhaps even with fans in the stands.

But somewhere along the way in the last three or four weeks, people all over the country threw caution to the wind and the virus came roaring back at levels unseen in April and May.

So here we are in the middle of July with the first regular-season games scheduled for Aug. 29.

UC Davis is supposed to start formal fall practice this Friday.

No one knows for sure what will happen, but the wheels are coming off this wagon awfully fast and no one seems to know how to put them back on.

If I were in charge, I’d tell the Big Sky Conference to adopt the conference-only format for this season, move the start date back to the first Saturday in October and finish up a 10-game schedule by early December.

As for the FCS playoff format, you may have to limit it to perhaps as few as four or eight teams instead of the usual 24, with a radically different selection process. Or maybe this is the year we don’t have a national championship playoff at all.

As my friend Bill Speltz, the highly respected sports editor and columnist at The Missoulian writes, July has become the “Month of Maybe.”

Will there be a college football season this fall?

I’m afraid “maybe” is the best we can come up with at this point.

(Note to Night Editor: if the season has been canceled before this column is posted, please pull it and run just my mug shot with tears streaming down my face.)

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected].

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