The coronavirus pandemic’s resurgence menaced the school football season’s closing weeks on Wednesday, when one team withdrew from its bowl game and the 4 national title contenders were warned that they might forfeit in the event that they weren’t in a position to compete on time.
Minutes after Texas A&M announced its withdrawal from next week’s Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., the College Football Playoff said it could not reschedule its Dec. 31 semifinal matchups featuring No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Cincinnati and No. 2 Michigan playing No. 3 Georgia, whilst it detailed a protocol that might upend the tournament before kickoff.
“As we prepare for the playoff, it’s sensible and mandatory to place into place additional precautions to guard those that will play and coach the games,” Bill Hancock, the playoff’s executive director, said in a press release. “These policies will higher protect our students and staffs while providing clarity within the event worst-case scenarios result.”
Under the policies that playoff officials outlined on Wednesday, a team that’s unavailable to play in a semifinal game on Dec. 31 will forfeit, allowing its intended opponent to advance mechanically to the national title game, which is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
If each teams in considered one of the semifinal matchups prove unable to compete, the winner of the opposite semifinal game will probably be declared the national champion.
There may be a measure of flexibility, though, for the title game itself. Playoff officials said that the championship showdown may very well be rescheduled by several days, but that it should be played no later than Jan. 14. If a team is unable to compete even after a delay, its opponent will probably be named the champion; if neither team can appear in Indianapolis, the playoff said, there will probably be no champion this season.
Playoff officials also said they were shifting plans surrounding their games and would allow teams to reach just two days upfront of kickoff as a substitute of the normal five. Related events will probably be optional for players and coaches, the playoff said, and news conferences will return to the virtual formats that became customary through the 2020 season.
“We definitely wish we weren’t on this position, however the only responsible thing is to take whatever actions we are able to reasonably take to higher protect those that play and coach the sport,” Hancock said.
The playoff teams haven’t reported significant outbreaks — although Alabama said on Wednesday that its offensive coordinator and offensive line coach had tested positive for the virus.
Texas A&M said its withdrawal from the Gator Bowl got here after a surge in cases had left it without enough players. Unless Gator Bowl officials are in a position to discover a substitute team to satisfy No. 17 Wake Forest, the Dec. 31 game may very well be the primary of this bowl season canceled abruptly due to the pandemic.
“It’s unlucky, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” Jimbo Fisher, the Texas A&M coach, said in a press release.
The university said that along with issues related to the virus, its team’s roster was limited due to injuries unrelated to the pandemic.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest’s coach, said he hoped bowl organizers would have the option to search out a substitute team to face his squad, which has a 10-3 record and reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
“While we’re disillusioned that we should not have the chance to play a talented Texas A&M football team next week in Jacksonville, our student-athletes and staff are still extremely excited and wish to play,” Clawson said in a press release. He added: “Our student-athletes, specifically our seniors, deserve this last opportunity to compete as a team for the possibility to win a championship.”
A minimum of one other team, Miami, is understood to be in health and safety protocols due to virus issues. Miami said this week that it hoped to take part in the Sun Bowl against Washington State on Dec. 31.
The struggles in college sports reflect problems faced more broadly in athletics. The N.H.L. announced a pause to its season and abandoned a plan to send athletes to the Beijing Olympics in February. The N.F.L. and the N.B.A. have largely tried to maintain their seasons on schedule, though two N.B.A. games were postponed on Wednesday because two teams, the Nets and the Toronto Raptors, didn’t have enough players to take the court.