Nov 6, 2020 | SPORTS | By Miles Montgomery | Photo by Bibi Powers
The 2020-2021 college football season has been far from normal. With numerous coronavirus-induced cancellations across Power 5 Conferences, and no national championship to contest, coaches and players alike have expressed their opinions on the one-of-a-kind season. “It’s not ideal,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown told CBS Sports. “It’s just awkward. It’s just different.”
The unique atmosphere may be having an effect on the field as well. “Home-field advantage has been altered — at least reduced — for sure in 2020,” CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd said. “Four weeks into the season, home teams are winning only 59.5% of their games (47-32). If that number holds, it would mark the worst winning percentage by home teams since 2005 (59.3%).”
The normally raucous caverns of college football, such as LSU’S Tiger Stadium, the University of Michigan’s Big House, and Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, have been playing in front of a mix of limited fans and cardboard cutouts, and many stadiums country-wide have banned fan attendance completely. This undoubtedly has had an effect on the field, as play-calling becomes much easier without 95,000 screaming fans, as well as the lack of pressure that comes from playing in front of a massive crowd.
The roster turnover that COVID-19 has caused has also contributed to the topsy-turvy results this season. Already, 37 games have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19, and more will surely follow. The sheer size of a college football team makes social distancing incredibly difficult, and the nature of the game isn’t exactly socially distant: in fact, it’s the complete opposite.
Even with a robust testing protocol in place, the risk is ever-present. Recently, a titanic SEC clash between Florida and LSU was postponed due to multiple positive tests amongst Florida players and coaches. Wisconsin Purdue was called off completely. This has been a theme all season so far, with teams having entire position groups test positive. In August, all but four of LSU’s 18 offensive linemen tested positive for COVID-19, and outbreaks also occurred at fellow powerhouses, one such being Clemson. Wisconsin’s second cancellation moves them closer to ineligibility for the Big 10 title, and throws the Big 10’s season plans into doubt.
As COVID-19 continues to take a massive toll on the U.S., the haunting emptiness of college football stadiums and other sports arenas nationwide has provided a stark reminder of the challenges to come. As college football coaches continue to navigate the unique problems presented by COVID-19, they can at least look to their away games as less daunting propositions. “Some of the things that make college football great — the bands, the smell of tailgating, the passion from the fans — [are diminished],” West Virginia Coach Neal Brown told CBS. “The atmosphere is not here.”