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Carlson: Why OU football shouldn't be the only one moving openers to Week Zero

OU takes the field before a 52-14 win against West Virginia last season at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
OU takes the field before a 52-14 win against West Virginia last season at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Wednesday marks a significant date — one month until the start of college football.

Maybe.

All of college football is up in the air, of course, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Will there be a season? What might it look like? Will it be started, then stopped? Will it be pushed back?

No one knows.

But here’s what we do know: there are five games scheduled Aug. 29, and OU is supposed to play one of them.

The Sooners, you remember, petitioned the NCAA to move up their season opener against Missouri State, originally scheduled for Sept. 5. Since then, Kansas has followed suit; it had to find a replacement opponent for one of its nonconference games, but once the Jayhawks did, they sought a Week Zero wavier, too.

Don’t be surprised if those Big 12 schools are only the first to move up openers.

Why?

It is a smart thing to do.

So smart, in fact, the NCAA issued a blanket waiver Monday allowing all FBS schools to play their openers Aug. 29, according to an email obtained by Yahoo Sports. Requested by the Football Oversight Committee, the move will allow teams “additional flexibility” during a season with unprecedented circumstances.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Tuesday the league is considering a conference-only slate starting with games on Week Zero. He indicated the preference is still a full slate of games as scheduled, but clearly, less games over a longer period would increase the chance of getting games played.

I know, I know. Lots of folks scoff at the idea of playing a football game at any point during this pandemic. Some even say it’s foolish.

I get it.

It’s entirely possible the season this gets scuttled by university presidents and chancellors before it ever starts. They may say the risk is too high and the cost is too great.

I get that, too.

But let’s say no one pulls the emergency brake on college football. Let’s also say there are programs able to prepare and practice safely without COVID-19 infiltrating their ranks. Even though it feels unlikely as programs like Michigan State and Rutgers shut down completely and send everyone into quarantine after multiple positive tests, there are programs navigating workouts safely.

OU has been among the best, going from 16 positive cases among players and staff on its initial round of testing July 1 to having no positives the past three weeks. But the Sooners aren’t the only ones moving forward. Many are continuing offseason activities without huge interruptions or massive outbreaks.

Yes, more hurdles loom. Students who aren’t athletes will soon return to campus, upping the chance of exposure. Classes will eventually resume, adding more opportunities for the spread of the virus. And of course, actually practicing and playing football are seen as high-risk activities.

The virus could easily cause havoc in programs that have done well to this point.

But if teams can clear those hurdles with frequent testing and rigorous quarantining, playing on Week Zero may well prove genius.

For starters, it gives teams a built-in off week, a buffer really. Even though teams will be testing right before game day — Missouri State, for example, agreed to follow the same testing calendar as OU in the lead-up to their game — this virus can be stealth. It can infiltrate quietly and infect unexpectedly.

If the virus is present on the field and spread during the game, teams playing on Week Zero will have extra time before their next game for affected players to quarantine and recover.

Starting as early as possible gives teams more runway for the season, too. Even teams playing conference-only schedules could play Week Zero games. Playing then provides another off week later in the season, and having that kind of leeway could be crucial if schedules need to be scrambled.

Moving up the opener also gives schools an early chance to gather information and refine best practices. No doubt administrators and coaches have thought through all sorts of issues related to games, but there will always be unanticipated issues. Having an early game will give programs a chance to rethink what they’re doing.

In the end, it should increase safety measures for teams.

Listen, I know nothing is sure; what happened these past few days with Major League Baseball is proof of that. I understand there are risks, and if the science or the medicine indicated the risks were too high, I would be the first to say shut down college football. This virus can debilitate and kill, so the well-being of the people involved must be paramount.

But if college football does move forward, there are clear benefits to moving up to Week Zero.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>The opening game for Tylan Wallace (2) and OSU is up in the air after the Pac-12 decided to only play conference games in 2020. The Cowboys were scheduled to host Oregon State on Sept. 5. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

The opening game for Tylan Wallace (2) and OSU is up in the air after the Pac-12 decided to only play conference games in 2020. The Cowboys were scheduled to host Oregon State on Sept. 5. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-378537bdf2afd69291a108fd368dd7fb.jpg" alt="Photo - The opening game for Tylan Wallace (2) and OSU is up in the air after the Pac-12 decided to only play conference games in 2020. The Cowboys were scheduled to host Oregon State on Sept. 5. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" The opening game for Tylan Wallace (2) and OSU is up in the air after the Pac-12 decided to only play conference games in 2020. The Cowboys were scheduled to host Oregon State on Sept. 5. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> The opening game for Tylan Wallace (2) and OSU is up in the air after the Pac-12 decided to only play conference games in 2020. The Cowboys were scheduled to host Oregon State on Sept. 5. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4cbb9d4e81db00e0380fba88af4aec65.jpg" alt="Photo - Bobby Petrino is set to make his debut with Missouri State against Oklahoma on Aug. 29 in Norman. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson] " title=" Bobby Petrino is set to make his debut with Missouri State against Oklahoma on Aug. 29 in Norman. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson] "><figcaption> Bobby Petrino is set to make his debut with Missouri State against Oklahoma on Aug. 29 in Norman. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e79ff826e1fe35c0e0dd79fbcc500c57.jpg" alt="Photo - OU takes the field before a 52-14 win against West Virginia last season at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU takes the field before a 52-14 win against West Virginia last season at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU takes the field before a 52-14 win against West Virginia last season at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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