Tuesday proved to be a pivotal day for the 2020 college football season, as both the Big Ten and the Pac-12 postponed their seasons until at least spring 2021. But other conferences are refusing to budge, meaning there may still games played – and perhaps even a champion crowned – this fall.

College Football 2020 Season
The Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed their fall sports, but that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for college football in 2020. (Image: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press)

That leaves the college football season hanging in the balance. If a season takes place this fall, it will look nothing like any in recent memory for fans, schools, or bettors.

Big Ten, Pac-12 Back Out of Fall Season

Dominos began to fall on Tuesday when the Big Ten announced that it had postponed the entirety of its fall sports season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Soon thereafter, the Pac-12 announced the same decision, postponing all sports competitions through the end of 2020.

“Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes,” University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill said in a statement. “We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.”

Rest of Power 5 Stands Firm

While speculation rose that those two postponements would end college football for the fall, it quickly became apparent that some conferences are still planning on playing this year. The ACC and SEC both released firm statements saying that they are sticking with their plans to play.

Some reports touted the Big 12 as a swing conference, suggesting that if the league chose to postpone play, it might create a tipping point where the SEC and ACC would likely have to follow along. But the Big 12 announced Wednesday that it’s moving forward with play this fall, at least for now.

“Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the board’s collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being,” TCU chancellor and Big 12 board of directors chairman Victor Boschini said in a statement.

When it comes to the Group of 5 conferences, a similar split has emerged. Both the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West have postponed their seasons until at least the spring. But the American Athletic Conference has announced it is in, while ESPN reported that the Sun Belt will most likely follow the SEC’s lead. Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported Monday that Conference USA also wants to move forward with 13 teams after Old Dominion independently canceled its fall season.

Tipping Point Could Come at 65 Teams

Whether or not FBS college football can hold a championship this year may come down to a numbers game. The NCAA Board of Governors has declared that “if 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport in that division.”

With 130 teams in the FBS, that means 65 cancellations would prevent the NCAA from recognizing a champion. Between the four conferences that have postponed their seasons, and a handful of other schools independently making that decision, 53 programs have chosen not to play this fall.

College Football Fall Postponements

Conference Schools Postponing Fall Sports
Big Ten 14
Conference USA 1*
FBS Independents 2
Mid-American Conference 12
Mountain West Conference 12
Pac-12 12

*Old Dominion canceled fall football, but the remainder of the conference intends to play.

That’s close enough that college football could lose its ability to crown a national championship if just one more conference drops fall sports. However, the College Football Playoff operates independently of the NCAA, meaning it could still try to organize a postseason without NCAA support.

Most College Football Bets off the Board

Sportsbooks reacted to the chaos by largely taking college football futures off the board. Oddsmakers have varying rules to cover this unusual situation; for instance, the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook will honor conference and national championship bets provided the 2020 season ends by August 2021.

“Everything is down because we don’t know what happens next,” Westgate Superbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Will all the good players transfer? Will they change the playoff format?”

Online sportsbooks have crafted their own responses as well. William Hill removed all futures odds, while FanDuel Sportsbook is offering only conference title markets for the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 – with all bets void if those games aren’t played in 2020.

If the situation settles and a clear College Football Playoff and national championship are played for the fall season, expect the futures odds at the top of the board to look a bit different than before postponements began.

With Ohio State – and to a lesser extent, Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma – out of action, Clemson will become an even more dominant favorite. Odds will also shorten on SEC powers like Alabama, Georgia, and defending champion LSU. Notre Dame should also see its chances improve dramatically as the clear second pick to win the ACC behind Clemson.

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