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College players push for protections with 2020 NCAA football season on the brink

What’s next for the NCAA—and how it impacts the NFL—will be clear soon enough.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

There may not be a college football season, or the college football season may be delayed significantly. Reports are rampant that conference leaders are coming together and preparing to postpone fall sports at universities across the country, something that will bum a whole bunch out of people out, to put it mildly.

The implications of that are incredibly vast. The NCAA and universities have been printing money thanks to college football for many decades, now setting those entities up for crushing losses with a lost or postponed season. Players counting on these seasons to help set up their professional futures may have nothing to point to heading into next spring’s NFL Draft, and the impact on college towns, their establishments, and their employees are going to be heavy and hurt a lot.

In light of that, there was a loud outpouring of support for playing the season over the weekend. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, two future NFL star quarterbacks and the potential #1 and #2 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, led the charge there, with Lawrence suggesting that players would be safer on the field than back home in their own communities. That comments were lauded by many and criticized by others who found it odd that he would imply, intentionally or not, that players would not take precautions if they weren’t playing football.

At that point, it was easy enough for college football fans who have never supported the idea of players getting paid or having real agency to get on board and push NCAA to move ahead with a season. For many, COVID-19 is not something to be feared if you’re young—or even at all—and the idea that players would push through risk to play was validating.

Then the players dropped the second piece of their push, which was health and safety protocols, opt out opportunities, guaranteed eligibility, and eventually the creation of a college football players association. In plain terms, what the players want is a union and recognition and protection the NCAA and their schools have long denied them. I’m hopeful there’s still the same level of support for players after that.

That push made clear why the NCAA, despite having months to try to figure this thing out, is considering shutting things down or postponing them despite everything that’s at stake. College football has resisted viewing players as employees this entire time, and committing to protecting them and perhaps even placing them in bubbles would be easy to view as tantamount to that.

That’s a significant obstacle, but the more significant obstacle is what happens when someone gets seriously ill or dies from COVID-19 during a college football season or any college sports season, something that is more or less inevitable with over 460,000 athletes in the United States. The NCAA and these schools are looking at what happens if they can’t protect players from illness or worse, looking at what it would mean to effectively protect them from that, and deciding they don’t want to deal with that risk or the potentially sweeping changes to a pretty lucrative business model. It’s as simple as that, and it’s why it’s hard to imagine there being a fall college football season this year.

From an NFL perspective, there are many, many implications to this. No season means potentially players staying in school for another year, GMs relying on the prior year’s evaluations, and potentially the draft being moved back. With a potential huge cap crunch coming to the league next year, anything that impacts the NFL Draft is not going to be a plus for teams, making the 2021 offseason a dicey one across the league.

We’ll have more thoughts on this and a more in-depth breakdown of how this might impact the NFL when we get the final decision, but suffice to say there are some big decisions to come.