The Mid-American Conference’s announcement Saturday that they’re cancelling their fall sports season (including for football) and planning to move the affected activities to the spring has led to a lot of discussion that other NCAA conferences may follow suit. (Some FCS-level conferences, including the CAA, the MEAC, the Ivy League, and the Patriot League, had already cancelled fall sports, as had FBS independent UConn, but the MAC’s move was the first from a FBS-level conference.) And that could lead to some very interesting TV discussions. To start with, it’s notable that there are already reports out there that ESPN is interested in televising the MAC in the spring, including this one from Joe Danneman of Fox 19 in Cincinnati (near MAC member Miami University, which is located in Oxford, Ohio):
Miami athletic director David Sayler on viability of a spring football season (after MAC postponed all fall sports): I think it's very viable. Just starting to explore possibilities. ESPN has already reached out to commissioner of conference about televising games.
— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) August 8, 2020
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Right now, it’s far from assured that all other FBS conferences will follow the MAC’s shift to spring, especially when it comes to the Power Five. Group of Five conferences like the MAC have been particularly hard-hit by the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC going to conference-only schedules (and the ACC and Big 12 going to a maximum of one non-conference game per school), and it seems pretty likely that other Group of Five conferences may also opt for spring. For the moment, though, the Power Five conferences seem to be officially trucking on, even if some officials there are expressing skepticism through reporters willing to let them be an anonymous source:
Power 5 source to @Stadium: “College football season is done. I don’t think everyone immediately follows MAC, but it gives other league presidents 1 more reason to make an easier decision. Biggest thing is unknown long-term impact of COVID & liability issues involved'
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 8, 2020
News from CBS Sports: 2 Power Five ADs: 'Inevitable' 2020 college football season will not be played this fall https://t.co/3XKwARGm6k
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) August 9, 2020
Prominent industry source: 'I think by the end of the week the fall sports will be postponed in all conferences.'
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— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) August 8, 2020
Sources: Big Ten commissioner prefers spring college football season via @reporterdavidj https://t.co/gXHQQc0FHb
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) August 8, 2020
While none of that is official yet, from a TV side at least, a shift to the spring might work out just fine for both college football and for ESPN (which has by far the most live college football games, especially when you factor in the SEC Network, the ACC Network, Longhorn Network and ESPN+). There are a whole lot of big-ticket sports events still scheduled (at the moment) for this fall, including the NFL’s season, the conclusion of the past season and playoffs in the NBA, NHL and MLS, the shortened MLS season, and the various golf tournaments.
And, at the moment, spring football competition isn’t assured. While the XFL’s assets were officially sold to a group led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners Friday ( following approval by a bankruptcy court judge), and while that ownership group has talked about a 2021 return, there are hurdles there, including on the TV side. There are also doubts about what college basketball and other professional sports may look like in the spring; the NBA and NHL are still planning full 2020-21 seasons at the moment (with December starts eyed for both), but none of that is certain yet.
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So for the moment, ESPN (and Fox and NBC, to lesser degrees) might wind up being quite happy with spring college football. And that may be the case regardless of whether that’s with a few conferences or with most or all of them. And it’s notable that for ESPN in particular, they reportedly have until next September to make up their promised number of events to cable providers. So shifting college football content to the spring might be just fine for them.
It should be noted that even a spring football season isn’t assured. Until there’s an actual vaccine for COVID-19 (and timeline estimates on that vary widely), it’s going to be difficult to pull off sports competitions, especially without a full bubble. And some of the issues arising right now may well still be present in the spring. But a spring season certainly gained some momentum this weekend, and it’s notable that the NCAA conferences’ various TV partners (and particularly ESPN) might wind up being fine with that.