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ESPN’s Chris Fowler on Three Scenarios of a College Football Season, Player Safety

Fowler thinks college football will be played in the school year.



Chris Fowler is convinced that at some point next school year that “Tombstone” scene will play, the corral will open and the Cowboys will run out of the smoke into Boone Pickens Stadium — he’s just not sure when that will be.

Fowler, an ESPN play-by-play announcer and big voice at the worldwide leader, went on Instagram this weekend in a nearly eight-minute video to discuss the upcoming football season and three scenarios he sees as for how it happens. Fowler called it informed speculation, as he has spoken to those planning the possibilities.

“The question everybody is asking and pondering is: Will we have a college football season that unfolds normally?” Fowler said. “I say that’s impossible. What is normal even gonna mean in society, in sports? I think that normalcy might just take a long time and there might just be a new normal in a lot of different areas, including sports.”

The first scenario is the one everyone hopes for: That the season starts when it’s supposed to and isn’t all that different from years before.

“The first scenario is the season begins on time and isn’t altered much,” Fowler said. “Time is running out, though, unless you feel like four to six weeks is a whole lot of time because I’m told that by the end of May, there has to be clarity. If you’re gonna have college campuses open, which you have to have if you’re gonna bring the players back, that’s about the deadline to get things going on time.”

Fowler goes onto say that college sports are different from pro sports. He said the NFL is getting pressured politically to start on time, whereas with college sports all of the different states involved have to get on the same page.

“Municipalities and states will decide when to open the valve and let people back together again, not so much the political sideshow in Washington, but the local municipalities and states. That’s what turned things off. That’s what’s gonna turn things back on, I’m told. You’ve got chancellors and presidents that will make the decisions for their schools. Not the commissioners and athletic directors. So, so many people are involved. Is it realistic to think this country is going to be on the same page, a level playing field, by July and August? Things are gonna feel the same in California as they do in Michigan or Ohio? Louisiana? Pennsylvania? Florida? Texas? All these places? It seems unlikely given that the virus is cresting and the peak is at different places at different times. We’re suddenly gonna be back to normal and get the crowds back in stadiums everywhere by late August, early September?

“Maybe it’ll happen. We hope it’ll happen, but hope without facts and the truth is not a strategy. That’s what, in large part, got us into this mess in the first place. So hope isn’t gonna do it. The people who are gonna make these decisions will be guided by the epidemiologists, the medical experts, the biotech people who can tell them when and how testing is going to be accelerated and improved and whether herd immunity is possible.”

Fowler’s second scenario is that the season starts late and is maybe shortened.

“So, maybe you get going in November and you go through January in some way,” Fowler said. “You’d have to reshuffle the Playoff, to me that sounds problematic. People are very worried about a second wave of this virus coming back when the temperatures up north turn cold in November. Do you want to start a season and then have to shut it down? To me, that would be disastrous.”

Scenario 3: Spring football.

“There’s a third scenario that’s gaining momentum that, on the surface, might sound preposterous, but I think a lot of reasonable people feel like it might be the most prudent course of action and that’s football in the spring,” Fowler said. “Beginning at some point in February into March, April, May, maybe even have the postseason in June. That would have to be reshuffled a bit. It would be bizarre. It would wreak havoc on some other sports in that time of year, but to avoid the financial disaster of having no football season in the academic year, I think it might be a fallback position. I think that testing will come a long way by then and perhaps closer to a vaccine. Perhaps it will make more sense for people to gather in large numbers in stadiums in about eight months instead of three or four.”

Fowler also brought up some points regarding keeping the players safe. He referred to them as the unpaid workforce, shot down the “well, they get a scholarship” crowd and seemingly responded to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s polarizing comments all in one swoop.

“But college, in my opinion, is so much more problematic, and the unpaid workforce of players, I know they get scholarships, don’t at me, that’s a whole other issue, but we better give consideration to the unpaid workforce who are very often taken for granted, taken advantage of,” Fowler said. “Their health and safety has to be absolutely paramount. I know these guys are not in the most dangerous age group for this virus, I get that, but to create an environment where there’s no vaccine and you’re gonna bring them all together and have them train and create situations where you don’t get a re-spike in cases, man you just have to be absolutely secure in the knowledge you can protect them. There’s a lot of tone-deaf statements being made out there right now in the sport. But let’s remember that the players’ health and safety has to be right at the top when you make these decisions.”

He ended on an upbeat note that sometime during the academic year, college football fans will get a season, but nobody is sure when.

“I just remain convinced that you will see the Clemson Tigers touch the rock and run down the hill,” he said. “You will see the I dotted in Columbus. You’ll see Autzen Stadium loud. Baton Rouge will be rocking on a Saturday night. Penn State will have a white-out. I think those things will happen, just a matter of when.”

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