The coronavirus, college football and the future of the Chiefs

LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 27: A general view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the TCU Horned Frogs and the Kansas Jayhawks on October 27, 2018 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 27: A general view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the TCU Horned Frogs and the Kansas Jayhawks on October 27, 2018 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images) /

COVID-19 has gotten 2020 off to an uncertain start. If self-isolation and no sports are our reality for much longer, the NFL’s free farm system could vanish.

We are now two weeks out from the 2020 NFL Draft. Those three days will provide us a much-needed escape, and it already has. Without the distraction of the NBA, March Madness, the start of the baseball season, and even work, more people are interested in this group of prospects than ever.

As I sit at home on a day I should be up at our raggedy Division II baseball press box that at any moment could see a ball flying through the window right at us while I am trying to do my job, the future of college sports weighs heavily on me.  With the cancelation of March Madness at all levels, that is a huge financial blow to the NCAA. We all look at the NCAA as a huge non-profit cash cow that laughs on their the bank as they refuse to pay their players. However, that money disappears quicker than you think.

Non-money making sports at major universities will quickly feel the impact of the NCAA having to can their largest bake sale of the year, and some will not survive. That is just the cold reality of this never before seen pandemic.

Fast forward to about four months from now. That puts us into August. Will we be out of this new norm of social distancing? Will be over the need to lurk around wearing masks and scared that one false step could put us, or our loved ones, in harm’s way? Or, will things return to their normal state? Can we get the pacing of our daily lives back, the streets as busy as normal, and me returning to work— this time dodging rogue volleyballs at the courtside scorers’ table?

Sadly, the sobering reality seems as if we will not be able to return to our normal life until there is a COVID-19 vaccine. As NCAA doctor Carlos Del Rio points out, “I hate to say it, but for this calendar year, we may not return to normal without a vaccine or some strategies in place.”

The growing concern is that we might not be fully in the clear come August. That would inevitably delay college football, despite Mike Gundy’s plea to get his healthy young men back in Stillwater.

Sadly it is not that easy. While social distancing is working, there is still a fear of a second wave. For the NFL, there will be a season. It might not happen on September 10th in front of a packed Arrowhead Crowd, but it will happen eventually. Football can be played at any time. Anything short of lightning is football weather. However, for the NCAA it is not that simple.

If we are not out of the woods in time to have our normal, and beloved, college football season, it would spell trouble for the NFL’s free farm system. Let’s run through a few ideas floating around as contingency plans for college football.

One plan is to only play conference games. While that would still lose the NCAA money, you can hopefully squeeze in nine weeks during the fall semester, and it would be worth it if that meant you could also pack the 100,000 seat stadiums. However, for the NFL, it is hard enough to scout 12-14 game seasons for prospects. Now we are relying on them to make their evaluations on just nine games? While it is not ideal by any means, this would still be the best option for the NFL if push comes to shove. It also keeps the season within the fall semester.

Another plan is to just delay the football season into the spring, and on the surface that sounds doable, and even logical, however, nothing stops at the surface. For the NCAA to do that, they would also need to reschedule all fall sports. They cannot show preferential treatment to the football program, no matter how much money it makes. That would put almost everyone in a bind, and despite the possibilities of being able to sell out your football stadium at that point, you would begin taking away eyeballs and revenue from your other sports. Staffing is the biggest issue for most universities. They would struggle to put together staffs for every single athletic event if they all happened within the same semester.

For the football side of it, while you would earn the ability to scout more games, You would also have to push the NFL Draft back which would include pushing back the NFL Combine, and events such as the Senior Bowl. Rookie mini-camps and OTAs would need to change as well. Do we expect athletes to play a 12 game college football season from January to April (I would feel sorry for every athlete in the Big 10) and immediately be thrown into the ringer that is the pre-draft process?

Another plan could be playing without fans, which would be a devastating blow to the NCAA’s pocketbook, but in terms of the NFL, it would allow them to pilfer through their free farm system as normal. Even some football programs would not survive the financial blows of not having a season or a season without fans.

No matter what, this 2020-21 NFL Draft cycle will continue to be unlike any other.

Could we even see the NFL do what the MLB has done and dramatically change the Draft landscape? For the MLB, it has been going the route of shortening the draft this year and altering signing bonuses. For the NFL, it would seem more likely that they expand the draft. Even with little change to this year’s NFL draft process, the Steelers already requested for additional rounds for 2020.

The best route would, of course, be to play out the 2020 college football season as normal—for all of this to be as close to over as possible by August.

If the NFL scouting process is thrown off in 2021, it would have a massive impact on every single NFL team, but especially the Kansas City Chiefs. With Andy Reid and Brett Veach at the helm, we all trust the organization to have us back at Union Station and celebrating another Super Bowl soon.

To do that, the Chiefs will need to hit on nearly every draft pick for years to come. Once they make Patrick Mahomes the highest-paid player of all time, extend a potential long-term deal to Chris Jones extension, and pay their pantheon of skill position players, the Kansas City Chiefs will not have the resources to make big splashes in free agency.

Therefore the Juan Thornhill and Mecole Hardman types of the world will become even more of a necessity. Now more than ever, the Chiefs need cheap, young, and controllable talent that can make an impact as soon as they put on the uniform. That is why I have a hard time believing they make their selection at 32 in the 2020 NFL. Instead, trading back in favor of compiling more draft picks than the current five selection they hold.

None of these plans, outside of life returning to normal, are good plans. While it is easier to just stick your head down and proclaim that football season will not be touched simply because we hope it won’t, the reality is that we really have no idea. By July, life could be restored, or we could be seeing a second wave.

The best thing to do now is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, wear a mask, and continue to stay as positive as possible.

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