When the Big 10 shocked Power-5 leagues across the country with the announcement of plans to only play conference games in 2020, the Group of 5 conferences like the Sun Belt also took note.
UL director of athletics Bryan Maggard said the potential football scheduling contingency plans for the Sun Belt moving forward are discussed weekly between Sun Belt athletic directors.
There are two primary options dominating most conversations.
“What we know now is the other three power conferences is going to wait until the end of this month to make a determination,” Maggard said. “Depending on which route they go will dictate our paths. One path could be that we work with other G5 conferences and if we’re able to play a 12-game schedule, I think that would be our preference. We just may have to find a replacement game for any power-five opponent that we lose.”
The second most likely path is the Sun Belt also adopting a conference-only approach.
“I think the consensus among the Group of 5 is that we want to play 12 games,” Maggard said. “Again, we just need to kind of wait and see where things land at the end of July or the first of August.
“It would not only be based on Power 5 decisions, but also the national climate in regard to COVID-19.”
In such a unique climate, however, Maggard said he wouldn’t rule out other possibilities, such as the regular season beginning the first of October.
“I’m not sure what the Sun Belt would accomplish by trying to add additional conference games to get to nine, 10 or 11,” Maggard added, “maybe use some of those weeks in case teams need to get well based on positive tests.”
Maggard also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of attractive games in early September lost to a late start being rescheduled later in the season if bye weeks match up.
“I think it’s very feasible, particularly if we are able to play 12 games,” Maggard said. “What we might look to do is focus on more regional games in the non-conference space. For example, rather than Wyoming coming here, do we identify a more regional Group-of-5, non-conference opponent to take their spot if they in fact can trade for a more regional game of their own?
“I don’t think that’s out of the question at all. I think it’s realistic. It would not surprise me if the Group of 5 ends up playing 12 games that we do provide relief to each other and try to make some changes that are more regionally based."
That could make up for voids in the schedule because of scheduled games against teams in leagues with conference-only scheduling.
With that said, Maggard’s gut tells him most athletic directors would lean towards “the most simple, uncomplicated route and just focus on conference games.”
But again, these are unprecedented times. What would the Sun Belt lose by letting individual programs potentially make a little extra money where possible?
For example, if the Sun Belt generally decides to play an eight-game conference schedule. But once the dust settles, say UL and a juicy regional rival end up with the same open date in November. Why not let the Cajuns, or any school, play nine or 10 games if they can get it and there's money to be made?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know if I have an answer to that. We’d probably made a league-wide decision. I guess obviously if there’s a huge benefit to somebody or an exception to the rule potentially, but the way things are trending now my guess would be that it would be a conference-wide decision — one that we all kind of vote on and support from there.”
Then there’s the last-resort option of moving football to the spring.
“If we’re driven to a spring football season, it’s going to be pretty loud and clear that’s our only option,” he said. “It’s going to be last resort, but I would certainly support doing it if it’ll allow us to get a season in, so we could have a college football playoff. We’d just have to work around the scheduling challenges.
“We’d find a way to do that. I don’t know of anybody that really wants that, but it is a last resort.”
Maggard said these football decisions will dictate most of college athletics. He’s concerned any factors that would lead to canceling football would also cancel basketball.
He also said the fall sports of soccer, volleyball and cross country would not be played if football isn’t.
For now, it’s a matter of waiting on the decisions of the remaining power fives, like the SEC, later this month or the beginning of August.
Even then, though, Maggard said he could see scenarios where the Sun Belt wouldn’t necessarily follow suit immediately.
“It could be delayed a little bit, depending on what the decision is,” he said. “If the Power 5s decided to do conference-only, I’m not convinced that would dictate the group of five to have to make that decision right away. I think a little bit later decision could absolutely be in play.”
Maggard said he hasn’t discussed eliminating any UL sports yet if the football season is canceled, but extreme cost-cutting measures have been.
“We won’t be caught off guard or have to start at ground zero if we have to make those tough decisions,” he said. “But we’d have to put a lot more thought into it.”
Here’s hoping for a miracle in the next two weeks.
“What I’m hoping is if nothing else, our society will allow the ability to have sports or not drive their stubbornness when it comes to wearing masks between now and then,” he said.
“Time will tell. I hope it’s not too late. If people would just do their part individually, I think collectively we still have a chance.”