At least two of the three College Football Playoff games are prepared to push back their scheduled kickoff dates if the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates postponements, CBS Sports has learned.
The possibility of delaying the playoff became a front-burner topic last week when Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said there had been discussions on the subject among the FBS commissioners. Bowlsby said the CFP doesn’t want to play into February, “but you just never know.”
The CFP Management Committee — the 10 FBS commissioners plus Notre Dame — will formally discuss pushing back the playoff during their Wednesday meeting, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The agenda item was added at the request of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.
The two national semifinals games in 2021 will be at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, both on Friday, Jan. 1. The CFP National Championship is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
“Ever since the pandemic broke out, I preach to my team it’s all about patience and flexibility,” Rose Bowl executive director David Eads told CBS Sports. “Obviously seeing what’s happening right now with COVID spread and cancellation of games, there’s still a lot to go in the season. It leads to [the Rose Bowl knowing] we have to be flexible.”
The Rose Bowl has not traditionally come off its 2 p.m. PT kickoff on Jan. 1 unless it conflicts with NFL playoff games. Other New Year’s Six bowls are not as locked in. However, the Rose is key. There would probably not have been a BCS or a CFP had the Rose not conformed to being a part of the postseason landscape.
“It’s not unusual,” Eads said of a date change. “We’ve not had any conversations about it. … Our goal is obviously to host a game. That Jan. 1 [date at] 2 p.m. is incredibly important to the Rose Bowl game and our brand. But again, we understand flexibility is going to be the key. We’ve all never been through a pandemic before.”
The Sugar Bowl “is good through the month of January” to reschedule its game, according to executive director Jeff Hundley. After that, there could be an issue with an ongoing renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Construction is scheduled to begin in February.
“If there was ever a year to be nimble and be flexible, this is the year,” Hundley said. “We’ll be ready to help if needed.”
South Florida will host two games. The traditional Orange Bowl will be Jan. 2 between an ACC team (including potentially Notre Dame) and an SEC or Big Ten opponent. Eight days later, Hard Rock Stadium will host the CFP National Championship.
“We’re staying the course [on the Orange Bowl for] Jan. 2 and as host committee for the championship game, Jan. 11,” Orange Bowl executive director Eric Poms said. “We haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”
Hundley was more forthcoming.
“We’re working on options,” he added. “I wouldn’t say there is anything formal or anything done yet. We’re just trying to stay in contact with Bill [Hancock] and the CFP and what we can and cannot do.”
Hancock is the CFP executive director who has previously said the preference is to play the games as scheduled and that change is not imminent.
Hancock told CBS Sports that putting the three games in a bubble at a central location is not a consideration.
The NCAA did just that with its Division I basketball tournament on Monday, announcing it is in discussions to play the entire tournament in the Indianapolis metro region.
At least 58 FBS games this season have been postponed for canceled because of COVID-19 issues. With time ticking in the regular season, conferences are running out of dates to reschedule games.
That presents another possible problem for the CFP. What if playoff games have to be postponed at the last minute due to COVID-19 outbreaks? In the first two weekends of this season, 25 games were postponed or canceled.
Any postponement of the CFP games could create scheduling issues with NFL playoffs. Both the Sugar Bowl semifinal (New Orleans Saints) and CFP National Championship (Miami Dolphins) could be impacted by teams playing on those fields in the NFL playoffs. The Rose Bowl is not the home of an NFL franchise.
The NFL playoffs start Saturday, Jan. 8 and Sunday, Jan. 9 wild card games. The divisional round is Saturday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Jan. 17. The conference championship games are both on Jan. 24. It’s unlikely any rescheduled CFP games would go head-to-head with the NFL on those dates.
“If this year’s taught us anything, it’s to never say never,” Hundley said. “We just have to be able to move however we can.”
Any alteration of conference championship games would have to come from the leagues themselves. They are all scheduled to be played by Dec. 19. Multiple conferences will play regular-season games on Dec. 19, the same day as their conference championship games.
The Big Ten scheduled regular-season games as part of its restart, while other conferences last week have come around to the idea of playing games that week. SEC athletic directors voted last week to use Dec. 19 to make up postponed regular-season games.