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Five Biggest Questions for Northwestern Football 2020, No. 1: How will COVID impact this season?

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The coronavirus holds the fate of college football in its hands.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference-Football Championship-Northwestern vs Ohio State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not often that our biggest question leading up to the season is if there will be a season at all.

The coronavirus is without a doubt the biggest question facing college athletics, and its ability to cancel or alter the season remains the primary concern for coaches, players and administrators.

COVID-19 has already altered the 2020 college football season, months before the season even began. Most schools have been limited to a conference-only schedule with the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 all deciding on a 10-game conference slate. The ACC is doing an 11-game schedule with 10 conference games and one nonconference opponent. The Big 12 is reportedly still weighing their options as of August 3. All of this to say — these schedules are currently the best case scenario, and there is no doubt the schedule won’t be the only thing that is different this season.

If all goes according to plan, teams will play a full season under serious restrictions. Worst case scenario? The Wildcats never take the field in 2020.

In reality, the season will most likely to fall somewhere in between. MLB’s return has been rough, to say the least, however the NBA’s bubble plan has worked as well as anyone could have hoped. A bubble for college football is next to impossible, but limiting travel is a step in the right direction. What steps the NCAA and the individual conferences can take next is anyone’s guess but bowl season is bound to be different.

Trying to put together a blueprint for the season is bringing other problems to the forefront. The perpetual argument for college athletes to get paid is stronger than ever. Thirteen Pac-12 players are threatening boycotting the season if the conference doesn’t meet their list of demands. Big Ten players released requests of their own to prioritize player safety in these concerning times.

Colleges are asking students to stay home, yet the schools insist players come to fall camps to prepare for the upcoming season. The players have a point: why should they have to come to campus and risk their health so the NCAA and colleges can profit.

This is just another wrinkle in the confusing unknown that lies ahead. There will almost surely be no fans at any games, which takes away a large portion of home-field advantage. Teams will still have to travel and play in certain conditions, but without fans. the atmosphere in stadiums like the Big House will be very different. Luckily the Wildcats are fairly used to this, so this might level the playing field for some matchups.

And when a player, coach or staff member within the conference inevitably tests positive for COVID-19, which has already happened to a number of schools within the Big Ten, the uncertainty and uneasiness will grow. Then, the impacts are not only on the fate of the season but the safety and well-being of every student, staff and faculty member at Big Ten conference schools.

The easiest prediction is to say there will be a season of some form no matter if conferences stick with the current ten game schedule or if they change course. I agree with my wise Editor-in-Chief Eli Karp that the best move might be delaying the college football season, despite the conference’s announcement on Wednesday to begin in early September. Moving forward with the season could come with long overdue changes that will finally give the players what they deserve.