Are you ready for some football?
Let me rephrase that popular late summer/early fall battle cry.
Are you ready for some winter/spring football that is meaningful — one assumes. This is not spring practice with a scrimmage after a handful of drills.
This is winter/spring football with real games, real playoffs and a real national championship.
Welcome to 2020-21 sports in the midst of a relentless global pandemic.
So while many basketball and wrestling teams are just starting their delayed seasons, while some volleyball teams are prepping to get some matches in during this school year, college football will return soon from a very short break.
Football long ago became a 365-24/7 sport at pretty much every level. The NFL, it seems, always has something going on, from combine to drafts, from camps to preseason, from regular season to playoffs. The latter, if you haven’t noticed, continues this weekend with divisional games — two right here in our Midwest neighborhood.
Even high school football has gone to spring/summer camps — optional, of course — with speed drills and weight lifting.
College football has had spring practices and spring “games” for years, many of them drawing thousands of fans.
But for Northern Iowa — and many other FCS teams — the season is just 35 days away — and counting.
Go to UNI’s football schedule on its website and you can see the countdown until the Panthers host Illinois State on Feb. 19, a Friday night showdown. In February. Good thing UNI has the UNI-Dome.
The Panthers haven’t started their preparation yet — at least not officially — and there are just 35 days, 10 hours and 42, 41, 40 seconds … until kickoff.
If all goes well — the four words that start every sentence during these COVID-19 days — UNI will play eight games before the playoffs begin April 24. The playoffs will be scaled back to 16 teams instead of 24, but the national championship game is planned, once again, for Frisco, Texas, on May 15 or 16.
It was just a year ago this week that North Dakota State toppled James Madison for the 2019 national title.
The Panthers are not alone.
The American Rivers Conference — the NCAA III league that includes Coe and Luther colleges — also is planning a spring schedule, albeit just a short three- or four-game slate that will not include any league or NCAA championships.
There is no indoor football facility in the A-R-C, so these schools will wait until March to attempt games. March, we all know, offers weather that can be hit-or-miss.
Coe opens with a home game against Dubuque on March 27 and also plays at Simpson (April 10) and hosts Nebraska Wesleyan (April 17). Luther opens at Wartburg, also March 27, hosts Loras on April 3 and travels to Dubuque for the April 17 finale.
After hosting the Norse, perennial power Wartburg travels to Dubuque (April 3) and Loras (April 17).
Wartburg, too, has one of those countdown tickets on its website — 71 days, 3 hours, 10, 9, 8 seconds.
It also has a disclaimer.
The American Rivers Conference postponed football to the spring of 2021. Due to the uncertain nature of COVID-19, all dates and times are subject to change.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? While testing has improved, the coronavirus hasn’t slowed and the vaccine isn’t widely available yet.
This is all planned and plans — as we’ve learned more than ever the past year — are not set stone.
These are interesting and strange times in the world of college sports. Spring football with games that matter.
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