Luke DeCock

Why stretching college football season is a good thought but a bad idea

ACC Commissioner John Swofford speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte on July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
ACC Commissioner John Swofford speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte on July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) AP

In a sport rife with dissension, everyone in college football – ACC and SEC, players and coaches, media and fans – should be able to agree that July is too early to start practicing. It’s too hot. It’s too early. It’s … July.

Many teams are starting practice this month under a one-year waiver that accompanied the overdue elimination of two-a-day practices, but it could become standard practice under a proposal to spread the 12-game regular season over 14 weeks.

The idea, under examination by the NCAA’s football oversight committee, is to give players more time off during the season out of concerns for player safety, especially given the proliferation of weekday games and short turnarounds. That’s entirely beneficial and commendable.

The unspoken benefit is another week of inventory for television partners to market, especially if the season starts a week earlier and offers another weekend where college football doesn’t have to share with the NFL.

You don’t get something for nothing. To start the season earlier, the only way to get 29 practices in without two-a-days is to start earlier, which will push it into the second summer school session almost everywhere. Coaches don’t want that. Pushing the end of the season back a week would mean competing with NFL playoff races. Television networks don’t want that.

“I don’t know where we will end up on that,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday. “On the one hand, there are things (ACC coaches) really like from it, things that we really like from it. On the other hand, I’m not sure how our players would feel about that. I’m not sure how that – if it moves back into July, how that would sit with what we’ve tried to do in autonomy in giving the players more time to themselves.”

That’s a significantly more equivocal viewpoint than that taken earlier this week by Swofford’s SEC counterpart, Greg Sankey, who endorsed the proposal: “There’s not opposition here to a 14-week season. There’s curiosity and interest.”

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North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte on July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton AP

The oversight committee’s intention is to explore models that keep practice in August while extending the schedule over 14 weeks, which could mean reducing preseason practices while increasing the number or intensity of non-contact offseason practices, as basketball has in recent years. That seems like a difficult bar to clear.

So does pushing conference-title games back a week and extending the season into December. As made-for-TV, neutral-site nonconference matchups – like the one in Charlotte between N.C. State and South Carolina – become more popular and more lucrative, a second weekend of college football before the NFL behemoth gets rolling would be enormously profitable.

Crossing into July, deep into summer school, is the sticking point. Coaches don’t want that for themselves or their players. N.C. State’s Dave Doeren said the 12 new recruiting weekends in the spring already increase the workload on his coaching and support staff, and moving up the start of the season would only exacerbate that.

“I worry about the future of families in our profession,” Doeren said.

The proposal is the unusual confluence of a well-intentioned effort to give players more time off during the season and a way to create another weekend to sell college football. That creates the potential for a dangerous synergy between two factions that might normally be opposed.

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Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, right, and Lamar Jackson, left, listen to an interview during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte on July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton AP

And if there’s one concrete rule about college football, it’s that the combined might of television money and the SEC exerts a strong gravitational pull – powerful enough to get Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, of all people, complaining about “the hypocrisy of athletics.”

“I know when they start talking about it, and certain people talking about it, it’s probably going to happen,” Petrino said. “Then it becomes the same lessons we teach our players: That’s the rule, there’s nothing we can do about it, let’s do the best we can.”

Spreading the season out over 14 weeks is the kind of idea that sounds good on the surface, looks worse under close examination and probably benefits enough power brokers to get pushed through. There are better ways to protect football players than starting the season a week before Labor Day. Few have this kind of money-making potential.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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