The past few weeks have served as a stark reminder that no matter how many precautions are taken, no college football game can be guaranteed.
When this post goes live on Saturday morning, 16 college football games will have been postponed since the season began three weeks ago. At the conclusion of today, 49 games will have been completed as scheduled. Simple math says that’s a rate of roughly one in four scheduled contests never making it to the field.
Rice football’s crosstown rival Houston was the latest to experience that staggering statistic firsthand. The Cougars were meant to play Baylor today in one of the quickest scheduling maneuvers in recent college football memory. The game was organized and planned in a little less than a week’s time. Less than 24 hours before kickoff, that game had been squelched too.
Houston’s equipment truck was already at the stadium.
— Dana Holgorsen (@Holgorsendana) September 18, 2020
Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen couldn’t spell it out on social media, but his non-so-subtle collection of characters conveyed a frustration mounting among coaches, players and fans alike. For whatever reason, this game just wasn’t meant to be.
Back to the math.
If rapid testing helps limit the impacts of transmission and contact tracing, that 25% number will be too high. But if the impacts of positive cases begin to tick upward as the number of games increase, it could be too low. The best we can do for the time being is use the data we have now as a proxy for what is to come.
If this rate of cancelations continues, the chances of having a season that looked anything like the “best case scenario” is slim. Many conferences have built in some buffer room and flexibility, but that would fix multiple cancelations per school. Eventually, the calendar runs out.
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Given any 10-game schedule with a 25% cancelation rate, a team would have roughly a 5% chance of playing all 10 games. On average, every 10-game schedule would end up with two to three cancelations. That’s sobering.
Those that do play could find themselves in situations like Austin Peay: who played their first game of the year without any healthy long snappers and relied on quarterback pooch punts. Or Texas State, which swapped quarterbacks because from game one to game two because of precautions. It’s going to be weird.
Some teams will be more fortunate than others. The odds suggest somewhere around a half dozen of the teams playing this fall will complete their entire schedules as-is. Some others will be on the other end, losing large chunks of their seasons. It’s going to be strange, but that’s the reality of playing college football under these conditions.
Be grateful for the college football you do get to watch this year. From Campell vs Coastal Carolina on national TV to a marquee SEC matchup in October and everything in between. If your team is playing, cherish it. There’s no guarantee they’ll be playing next Saturday, no matter what the schedule says.