Requiem for a Lost Year: Now What?

For anybody involved in college sports, 2020 has been almost completely washed away. All that's left to do is to pick up the pieces and make the best of what comes next.

aerial photography of California Golden Bears stadium

Much of the appeal of sports generally, and college football specifically, is that it’s the most important unimportant thing in the world.

It’s important because we have made it important, growing it into a billion-dollar industry. If you’re a college football fan, it feels like the world stops on Saturdays in the fall. Children dream of playing in front of 10s of thousands of fans, and many current athletes are distraught that they have lost the 2020 season.

But it’s not (or at least, shouldn’t be) an essential service. And as a result, it’s not happening in 2020. That was confirmed last week in the Pac-12, and will likely eventually happen for every other conference, whether they acknowledge reality now or wait until every college housing unit experiences a COVID cluster.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not sad. Sad for fans who build their fall around the sport, sad for so many who work in industries that depend on college football, and most of all sad for the actual football players who work crazy hard for a chance to play.

If a spring season does happen, will Cal’s 21 seniors all elect to play, or will they prepare for the draft. If a spring season doesn’t happen, will Cal’s seniors elect to take another year of eligibility, or move on from their college experience after 4, 5, or even 6 years on campus? Nobody, perhaps not even the players themselves, yet know.

COVID-19 has accelerated change across American society, and sports have hardly been immune. 5 substitutes in soccer. Automatic runners in extra inning baseball. Radical experiments with new playoff structures in multiple sports that may disappear as quickly as they were dreamed up, or that may become new formats that stand the test of time.

This might be most true of college sports, where structural change was already coming. COVID-19 might finally force the NCAA to reckon with amateurism. Conferences and schedules may be radically realigned. Nobody knows how eligibility limits, scholarship limits, and transfer limits will be changes, and for how long.

All of a sudden a whole mess of coaches and administrators took a bunch of meetings, appointments, and projects off of their work schedule. Every single D1 university that relies on football revenue is now staring down a gigantic budget deficit.

Now is the perfect time to completely re-imagine everything about college sports. Funding, structure, ethics, everything. And like how the most successful basketball coaches are the ones who can navigate grad transfers, early-entrants, injuries, and shoe company money to maintain a competitive roster, the schools that come out of this crisis with a plan will be the ones poised for success on the field.

If college sports are ultimately unimportant, then blogging about it is even more so. And yet, that’s the reason we’re here. For five months now we’ve tried our best to keep a new site afloat without, ya know, the actual sports we’re all here to talk about, all the while fearing and knowing that five months without Cal sports could easily turn into more.

And here we are, with more of the same in store! If we’re all lucky (we won’t be), Cal sports will return in January 2021, which means nearly 10 months off. Considering the level of leadership we saw from college and NCAA administrators over the last few weeks, and the general status of COVID-19 in this country and in California, I think it’s more likely than not that Cal sports don’t return until fall 2021.

We’ve never had to contemplate an off-season so long. We will continue to cover how the pandemic impacts Cal and college sports (big kudos to the Write For California breaking news team, who have been doing great work covering all of the myriad impacts the pandemic has had on Cal at every level) but we’re going to spend some time over the next week or so radically rethinking what we’re going to blog about over the next few months.

So if something like this intrigues you (or, alternatively, sounds like something you’d hate!), now’s the time to voice your opinion:

Because we’re going to have to find something to pass the time with, and it may as well be something you’re interested in reading!