It's times such as these, when COVID-19 headwinds are swirling and the prospect of a substantial football season moves farther from logic's range, that Scott Stricklin longs for a chip-shot problem to tackle.
Such as finding a way to play the Florida-FSU game in an abbreviated season.
“To me, that’s a downhill problem to have to solve,” Stricklin, the Gators’ athletic director and himself a coronavirus survivor, said Tuesday. “That’s secondary to the challenge of trying to find testing protocols that people can feel good about and actually execute.”
At this point, playing even one game in 2020 seems a challenging proposition. Unlike the NBA and NHL, Division I-A college football ― with 130 teams strewn across the nation ― can’t exist in a bubble. Even if the coronavirus curve takes a southerly turn, strict guidelines (for testing, travel, lodging, etc.) and contingency measures must be installed.
At this stage, confining teams to a conference-only schedule seems a best-case scenario. The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have announced they’ll go that route, and the ACC reportedly will do the same later this month. The SEC isn’t expected to make any major decision for another couple of weeks.
But if the season does get off the ground, Stricklin wants to find a way to face the ‘Noles.
“If we’re able to get to the point where we play a game, when we get to that point I want to play that FSU game,” he said in a virtual meeting with reporters Tuesday.
“That’s really important to the state of Florida. I think it’s really important to both institutions.”
Question is, would that “downhill” problem evolve into a daunting one?
Presuming the Power Five schools opt for conference-only schedules, UF would have to negotiate its way out of its non-league games against Eastern Washington (Sept. 5), South Alabama (Sep. 19) and New Mexico State (Nov. 21).
Because UF’s non-conference slate for upcoming years is booked, those contests probably can’t be rescheduled.
“I don’t like to speculate,” Stricklin said. “But if you were going to speculate down that path you would certainly have to consider what’s in those contracts and how you separate yourselves from those contracts in a way that’s legal.”
But detaching themselves from their less-heralded non-conference foes could allow the Gators to remain attached to their most prominent one. With game postponements (due to COVID-19) possible this autumn, removing Eastern Washington, USA and New Mexico State creates flexibility for make-up dates, and possibly one hyped non-conference showdown.
It’s a notion that has gained traction nationally. In a recent podcast, veteran college football insider Brett McMurphy said he envisions an ACC-SEC alliance of sorts that would allow the biggest inter-league games (UF-FSU, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville) to be played in a shortened season.
But as Stricklin noted, reaching that point is an uphill climb.
“I’m hopeful we can find a way to play our schedule as normally as possible at that point,” he said. “But that again is secondary to making sure we take the extra steps to enhance the safety for our athletes.”