Call me an eternal optimist, but I believe we have college golf this fall.
Now, what exactly that looks like remains to be seen.
Regardless of what you believe, COVID-19 has the full attention of athletic departments around the country, and these administrators have some tough decisions to make.
It’s no secret that football is steering the ship. If no football is played this fall, it’s reasonable to expect other sports, including golf, to be canceled or postponed, as well. We should know more definitive answers by the end of July, but I have a hard time believing that football will not happen, especially with Power-5 institutions such as Texas and Texas Tech already discussing the potential for partial capacity in stadiums.
So, assuming football is still a go, we can now mull the possibilities for golf, which plays its championships in the spring but begins competition in the fall.
When will the season start? What will schedules look like? Is it possible that some teams play, and some don’t?
Let’s discuss some of those pressing questions:
Will the season be delayed?
All signs point to yes. Each year in late August, the men’s season usually kicks off in Pebble Beach, at the Carmel Cup. That event was canceled earlier this summer. Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley Conference announced that the start of its fall athletic seasons would be delayed until Sept. 17. That seems like a reasonable target date – at least for now – and I expect other conferences to follow suit, delaying their first events until late September or even early October. Texas, which released its women’s golf schedule earlier this week, won’t kick off its season until Sept. 27-29, meaning the Longhorns will skip the Annika Intercollegiate, which is still on for earlier in September. Other teams, including Duke and UCLA, have also pulled out of the premier tournament in Minnesota, which could mean those programs also expect later starting dates.
What will schedules look like?
The biggest expectation among coaches is that if they play, their travel will be limited. Some of that will be because of budgets, which took a hit with the cancellation of March Madness and spring championships and figure to take another with fewer fans – or no fans – expected in seats this football season. I would think that nearly every coach in the country has seen a decrease in what they are allowed to spend, and they will have to get creative when finalizing their fall plans. Some coaches have been told they can’t fly. Other coaches are already planning on driving to every fall tournament. My guess is that the majority of teams play regionally focused schedules this fall, as is the case with the Texas women, who will play three events either in Oklahoma or Texas before heading to Atlanta for the East Lake Cup in November. There could also be several teams with their own courses who decided to host last-minute tournaments and invite other schools who also have sudden holes in their schedules. With that being said, there are some coaches at big schools who have already had out-of-state travel and flights approved by their athletic departments. That could obviously change, but it would appear that teams will do their best to have as close to a full fall slate of tournaments as possible, with finances being a major determining factor.
But what about these conference-only mandates, such as the one the Big Ten announced?
A couple of weeks ago, the Big Ten announced that its fall sports teams would be required to play only conference games this fall. However, men’s and women’s golf were never specifically mentioned. Those sports don’t have conference schedules like football and other sports, so I wouldn’t expect golf to be included. If it does, then Illinois’ annual event at Olympia Fields, which usually attracts the best teams in the country, will look decidedly different, either being played with only Big Ten teams or being scrapped altogether.
Could some teams play while others don’t?
Yes. In fact, that will definitely happen. As of writing this, four conferences have already announced no fall athletic competition: Ivy League, Patriot League, Colonial and SWAC. While it is unfortunate for those student-athletes, my guess is that few other conferences – if any – follow their lead. Teams are going to try to get whatever golf they can in, even if it means fewer events or no significant travel. The hope is that no matter what happens in the fall teams can have a normal spring, potentially adding a tournament or two then, and compete for conference, regional and national championships again.
What is the NCAA saying?
On Friday, NCAA president Mark Emmert released this statement: “Today the Board of Governors and I agreed that we must continue to thoughtfully and aggressively monitor health conditions around the country and the implementation of the COVID-19 guidelines we issued last week. The health and well-being of college athletes is the highest priority in deciding whether to proceed with our 22 NCAA championships beginning in late November. We all remain deeply concerned about the infection trend lines we see. It is clear that the format of our championships will have to change if they are to be conducted in a safe and fair manner. We discussed other complexities in addition to the health and safety impacts, to include team availability, travel limitations and various local and state restrictions. We will continue our discussions in August.”
Is there a scenario where fall golf doesn’t happen at all?
It’s possible, but this is extremely worst case. For this to happen, we can assume that football has been pushed until at least mid- to late-November. Like I said before, if football isn’t playing, no one else is – and if football is canceled (I would be shocked if that happened) there will be devastating repercussions for whole departments and universities. While I’ve mentioned that money will play a big factor, safety should not be overlooked, either. If those making decision determine that student-athletes are at too much of a risk to play this fall, I don’t believe they let them compete. Golf is the safest of the fall sports, but it will likely not get preferential treatment. The good news is that if college golf doesn’t happen in the fall and has to be moved to spring only, teams will adjust. Northern schools will be affected more, but every team, no matter location, should be able to get in at least a few tournaments before conference championship season begins in mid-April.