Recent storms help make case for extra bye week
At the NCAA’s annual convention in January, the top legislative committee for Division I floated the idea of a 14-week college football calendar, which would have the practical effect of putting two bye weeks into the schedule for every team in the country.
Like every potential significant change, it has gone through the policy wringer over the ensuing months with various subcommittees discussing positives and potential unintended consequences, including whether that might push preseason practice back into July (something many coaches and probably some conference officials would be against).
While the initial push for a 14week calendar was rooted in building in extra recovery time for players during the grind of a long season, the extreme weather events that have wreaked havoc with games over the last two weeks have brought a second possible benefit into focus: more flexibility to reschedule games that get canceled.
“The proposal was really directed for health and safety,” said Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips, who chaired the D-I council until rotating off earlier this year. “But after witnessing how Mother Nature can really cause issues — lightning strikes, hurricanes, travel issues — an additional week might take some pressure off and give flexibility for these types of (occurrences).”
Though this isn’t the first time hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather have impacted college football schedules — LSU has had a game canceled, moved or rescheduled for three consecutive years — the disruptions caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been massive.
Eight games have been canceled to date, including several key matchups in the American Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Florida State-Miami was moved to Oct. 7, which was only possible because they shared an open date.
Though hurricane recovery obviously is a higher priority than playing a full 12-game football season, there is typically a desire for administrators to try to reschedule games because of the lost revenue both for their athletics department and local businesses that plan around college football games bringing in thousands of visitors.
And in the case of the AAC, canceling a game such as Memphis-UCF without the ability to make it up could significantly impact conference title races and postseason opportunities.
Memphis, in fact, got on a plane the night of Sept. 7 with the intention of playing at UCF last Friday, landed in Orlando, then turned around and headed home after Florida Gov. Rick Scott closed all public colleges in preparation for Irma.
“I’ve been working with the conference since last Friday to figure out how to reschedule everything and because football season doesn’t have a lot of flexibility,” Memphis athletics director Tom Bowen said. “A second bye week would allow the entire FBS conferences, in my opinion, to deal with the unintended consequences of weather, act of God or act of government. Right now, the way it works is you have one bye week, and it’s hard — almost impossible now in our case — without canceling another opponent or removing a non-conference opponent, which isn’t fair to another contractual agreement made years ago with another institution.”
It’s unclear whether MemphisUCF will be played, though there is a potential window Sept. 30 when Memphis is scheduled to play at Georgia State and UCF hosts Maine. Making it happen, though, would require both schools buying out of their nonconference games and potentially performing other scheduling gymnastics down the road.
And that would be one of the easier moves, relatively speaking, if the goal was to reschedule as many games as possible. Thursday morning, the AAC announced South Florida-Connecticut, which was supposed to be last weekend, will move to Nov. 4. But to make that happen, Houston had to move its homecoming game against East Carolina a week later to Nov. 4 and instead go to USF the week before.
Though putting in a second bye week wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue, it would at least ope up the chessboard to possibl move more pieces — which seem like a good idea if you’re incline to believe that climate change will fuel more extreme weathe events.
“It creates a whole snowball ef fect when you only have one by to get it lined up,” Bowen said “My colleagues in our conferenc are going to talk about it in ou meetings in November. The ma jority of games are played in out door stadiums, and whe dangerous inclement weathe happens it really affects footbal You’ll see us asking that as a con ference, because we have five un versities affected by Harvey an Irma and last year we had tw schools affected. So it’s two sea sons we’ve had this dynamic We’re going to have discussion with Commissioner (Mike) Ares co. What are the possibilities her to give some flexibility to re schedule? That’s a good conversa tion to have.”
Northwestern AD Jim Phillip also cited health and safety.