One tweet this past weekend explained the situation facing college football better than I’ve been able to in weeks via our conversations on Glenn Clark Radio.
After the CAA announced it had chosen to “cancel” the college football season, Towson University sent out a tweet with a link explaining where it stands when it comes to football. While the Tigers are not pursuing what would be an allowable independent schedule to play in the fall, they are considering a season in the spring should it become viable.
But they’ll be doing it without their most prominent player.
Running back/return specialist Shane Simpson, who finished the 2018 season second in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game before suffering a season ending knee injury early in 2019, won’t be playing another game in a Towson uniform. He retweeted Towson’s announcement and added “you never know when your last play..damn this hurts.” Despite wanting to play another year so badly that he received a sixth year of eligibility after having his 2019 season cut short, Simpson knows his Towson career is over because he won’t be available to play football in the spring.
It’s not even an option for him because he’s going to be busy trying to make it in the NFL.
First off, I don’t blame the CAA for canceling football or Towson for not being able to make an independent fall season happen. This damage is unfortunate, but the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be ignored.
With major college football programs scrambling to try to figure out ways to make a 2020 season happen, fans have asked why the entire sport wouldn’t simply choose to postpone competition to the spring. It’s logical enough in theory, right? While unprecedented, there is the possibility that the country has improved to a point that not only could the sport be played safely, it could potentially be played with fans in the stands.
The thing is that without the help of the NFL, college football would be doing so without an overwhelming number of players — and apparently there are still some within the sport who don’t fully understand that.
You know the draft itself occurs in late April. Perhaps you might think that the draft coinciding with a one-off season isn’t necessarily the end of the world. I mean, heck, the MLB Draft (in normal years with no pandemic) occurs in June while a number of college baseball players are still participating in the College World Series.
But the NFL Draft is far more than a one-weekend event on a Las Vegas flotilla. (OK, it was supposed to be one floating stage but you guys I’ve got $100 riding on whether I could work “flotilla” into a column so can you be cool?) It’s an entire season’s worth of events. It’s all-star football games. It’s the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis as well as regional combines throughout the country. It’s Pro Timing Days and prospect visits with teams, be they in-person or — like everything else you’ve done in 2020 — via Zoom. It’s prospects literally moving into training facilities so they can specifically work on the skills teams most want to see from them during the run-up to the draft.
Your next thought might be something like, “Well … maybe the NFL might be willing to change things to help colleges out. Heck, it did last year’s draft virtually, does it really need players make in facilities moving forward?”
The NFL did virtual visits in 2020 for the same reason the rest of us skipped Easter mass and lied and told our parents that we watched it on Facebook and “it was so beautiful. It really spoke to me, mom.” It’s because we had to. We had no choice. Imagine asking an NFL general manager if he’d be OK getting less face time with prospects next year because, you know, it’s just really important that we protect the sanctity of the Maryland-Rutgers rivalry, you know? If it’s safe enough for college football to be played then it’s safe enough for prospects to make visits. They want as much time as they can possibly have with these prospects. It’s comforting. It’s like the story of the Butcher from “Tommy Boy.” It’s gotta be your bull, y’know?
Unless the NFL is forced to move its calendar back SIGNIFICANTLY, draft-eligible players aren’t participating in a spring 2020 season. It’s not because they’re “choosing” not to play, it’s because they don’t have a choice.
The Athletic recently asked 20 college football coaches how many players from their teams they thought might not participate in a spring season because of the draft. Half of them expected the number to be “two or fewer.” And I guess that’s possible? For example, TheDraftNetwork.com — certainly not a definitive reference but worth working with for the sake of the conversation — has ranked the top 567 prospects for 2021.
(As an aside, I’m really mad that it stole my idea to just rank 567 things. What now do I do with my “Top 567 times Bubs called McNulty ‘McNutty’” listicle I spent all of quarantine working on?)
Only ONE player in the Top 567 is from Ball State. It’s cornerback Antonio Phillips, ranked 476th, but you probably already knew that. So if The Athletic asked Ball State coach Mike Neu, “two or fewer” would be a reasonable answer for him to give.
But what if The Athletic asked, say, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney? Nine of the top 250 players on the board play for Clemson. Does he think only two of them would decide that preparing for a profession that would pay them so handsomely their salary could be renamed “Chris Hemsworth” would be less important than making sure they helped their coach hit incentives in his contract for beating South Carolina while they themselves received (checks notes) absolutely zero compensation?
Well … maybe. There was this quote in The Athletic piece:
The coach went team-by-team through the talent in his own conference and didn’t see, by his estimation, more than a dozen players who he thought would be making a savvy business decision to even consider opting out. “But,” he said, “that’s me looking at it from a sensible standpoint. You don’t know who is in that kid’s ear.”
That quote stinks more than myself, my 3- and 5-year-olds after spending Sunday climbing at Rocks State Park in the 100-degree heat. Shane Simpson is considered the 546th-best player in the class by The Draft Network. (I’ll bet he’s better than that, but that’s for another day.) He knows he CAN’T participate in a spring season because he has to spend those months doing everything he possibly can in order to make sure he has a future in the NFL. But there’s a college football coach that thinks he’s the one who’s “sensible” by suggesting an athlete should scrap doing that in favor of risking life-changing injury while not making any money.
I don’t know who the coach is, but I know he’s garbage. He’s a garbage leader and they should have the balls to attach his name to the quote so future prospects know what his priorities are.
If Shane Simpson is out, you know what the answer is. Any draft-eligible player who thinks they have a shot at a pro future at all isn’t going to have a choice to play. A spring season would be so wildly bastardized by the loss of not only all of the talent that matters (like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence) but also an overwhelming amount of depth from some programs before injuries even come into play.
There is no benefit to any draft hopefuls to participate in the season. Whatever advantage they might create for themselves by playing well on tape is mitigated by them not being able to work for teams and prove their success is about overall talent more than good fortune because of depleted competition. And considering the draft would happen during the season, a stretch of, say, six games of good football is even less likely to change a player’s status.
Oh … and do you think the major networks are interested in paying conferences the same amount for TV rights without ANY of the relevant players that they would for a normal season?
Shane Simpson is the reason why Power Five conferences are trying so damn hard to play football this fall. They know they need the players. I mean, they obviously can’t say that out loud because it would be insanely damning to their horsesh*t arguments about why players shouldn’t be paid, but that’s the reason. They need the players, and they wouldn’t have them in the spring.
It’s possible that the NFL ultimately can’t play this fall, chooses to play in the spring and draft season gets pushed back entirely to next season. It seems unlikely, but the league has its issues even as players are slated to report this week. That could change this. Or, in the end, even canceling non-conference games or pushing back the start of the season might not be enough to make it safe to play college football. If that’s the case, it’s still kinda hard to imagine how it will DEFINITELY be safe enough to play a bastardized version of college football in the spring. But if it is, the leagues might try to give it a go even without having any of the players who matter.
But they’re not announcing that today. They’re trying to play. Because they need the damn players and they should stop lying about it already.
Photo Credit: ENP Photography