ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit: Contingency plans being evaluated for college football season

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s well-known college football analyst, said he was merely “thinking out loud” during a radio interview nearly a month ago when he said he’d be “shocked” if NFL and college football seasons go on as scheduled this fall.

Herbstreit said during the ESPN Radio interview that because of the long delay in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, it would be difficult to allow players to congregate in locker rooms and play games and have fans in the stands, not to mention all the elements needed to hold games. His comments created a considerable stir in the sports world.

Justin Fields

During a conference call Monday held by the network to discuss the NFL Draft later this week, Herbstreit clarified his remarks and said the radio interview was the day the baseball season was set to open, and he and the host were reminiscing how sad it was to not have baseball. Sports and most of the country have been shut down during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“And I was like, ‘Hey, man, this thing’s scary. We may not even have football,’” Herbstreit said Monday. “I was just thinking out loud at that point. Obviously, there’s been a lot of data and a lot of information, and even I said during the interview, this thing is changing by the day, the week, even the hour, so a lot will change in the coming weeks.”

Since his initial comment on the topic, Herbstreit said he has spoken to several “decision makers” in the college game and said they’ve built several contingency plans based on projections for the virus, and they will follow recommendations from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, President Donald Trump and the nation’s governors. The first contingency, according to Herbstreit, is to start the season at the regular time this fall, but there also is a contingency plan to play next spring.

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“If everything’s OK, status quo, show up on campus in July, two-a-days, regular season, here we go, that’s the first contingency,” Herbsrtreit said on the conference call. “Then they build it all the way back, the second, the third, the fourth (contingencies), all the way back to the willingness to start in late February or March, turning it into a spring sport and playing in March, April and May and playing postseason in June, which would be, I think, a last-ditch effort, which just proves how willing the administrators are with the NCAA and the conference commissioners and the ADs and the presidents to have a college football season.

“They’re going to do everything they can if it comes to that extreme to be able to potentially have a 2020 season. A lot of this is kind of a feeling out process, and we’re just going to wait to see what the data shows. I’m going to turn on the TV (now) and I’m sure something new has happened with how to get a test for this and what makes the most sense in taking care of the athletes and making sure we don’t send them back just because we’ve got to make our bottom line. Next thing you know, somebody gets it and dies. You imagine what would happen to the NFL or college football if they hurried back and a player or a coach or a referee or somebody gets this virus and dies? That’s something they’ve got to think about and they obviously want to avoid.”

Herbstreit was asked how a spring college football season might look and be pulled off.

“Can you imagine? How bizarre would that be?” he said. “The spring is when we get the baseball bats down, and I watch the Reds and I watch college baseball. I’m a baseball junkie. It just goes to show you how far we are willing to go to get our football.

"I think it would be weird to watch spring football. It’s like these other (football) leagues are that play in the spring, I can just tell you that as a fan, as a consumer, I have a really hard time getting into spring football. I like that it goes away in early February after the Super Bowl, and I love when it comes back in July with NFL training camps. It makes me want it so much more when it comes back.

"But this is desperate measures. We are all in uncharted waters. We’re in a world we’re trying to adjust every day to and being quarantined. If it means we have to push it back to starting in December, starting in January or starting in February or March, then so be it. Then that’s what has to happen.

“What will be really interesting in the college game is if they have to go that far back, what guys like (Clemson quarterback) Trevor Lawrence or (Ohio State quarterback) Justin Fields or other guys, what they would do? Do they play the season in the spring or do they opt to basically sit out because of their obvious status as being drafted? I have no idea about any of that, but it does make you kinda wonder what some of the players at that level would do.”

Herbstreit made clear Monday he doesn’t have the answers and like everyone, he’s just thinking about possibilities regarding the college football season.

“I’m not making any predictions (and) I really wasn’t that night,” Herbstreit said, referring to the radio interview last month. “I was just trying to explain how real this pandemic is and how we all need to listen to the guidelines and what they’re recommending.”