Arkansas State’s opener at Memphis on Sept. 5. was still on the schedule as of Tuesday. That much athletic director Terry Mohajir knows.
Mohajir has no idea who the Red Wolves will play the following week or the week after that.
“I wish I could tell you something concrete,” he said, echoing his counterparts at schools across the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation or postponement of more than 300 Division I games so far, and how much, if any, college football is played hinges on whether the surging number of virus cases can be tamped down.
Canceled games — even if it’s just one or two — could be crushing financially for athletic programs, especially those at the lower end of the Football Bowl Subdivision and in the Football Championship Subdivision. A team can play a Power Five conference foe on the road and earn as much as $2 million, often enough to keep other programs afloat or fund the training table or academic center.
The scramble to find someone to play began July 9 when the Big Ten announced it would play only conference games this fall. The Pac-12 followed suit. Decisions by five FCS conferences to not play this fall emptied even more Saturday schedules.
More openings could loom if the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 or Southeastern Conference decide to scrap nonconference games — if football is played at all.
Former ESPN executive Dave Brown, who developed software used by 90% of Division I programs to identify possible matchups for nonconference games, said most scheduling right now is being done on a contingency basis because of all the uncertainty.
“It could be rendered moot in a week, two weeks, a month,” he said. “No one knows.”
Brown said he is seeing mostly verbal agreements rather than written contracts, and cancellation clauses in written contracts are taking into account the pandemic and waiving penalties. Perhaps tellingly, there have been no official announcements about replacement games.
Some teams are more willing to go on the road and earn some money rather than absorbing the costs associated with staging a home game in front of a limited number of fans, Brown said. Of course, visiting teams won’t be receiving as much as they would in a normal season.
Perhaps no school faces a bigger challenge than BYU, which had five games fall off its schedule: Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State and Minnesota to start the season and a Nov. 28 game against Stanford. BYU is an independent, with no conference schedule.