- Mark Alnutt, Director of Athletics, University at Buffalo (moderator)
- Nick Carparelli, Executive Director, Bowl Season
- Mike Nealy, Executive Director, Fiesta Bowl
- Steve Beck, President & Executive Director, Military Bowl
Because of COVID-19, several bowl games across the country confirmed they would not be hosting a game in 2020. In fact, it was recently announced that the Sun Bowl, typically played between the Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), would not be played due to a steady increase in Covid-19 cases. Thus, on Tuesday, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted its latest virtual forum in light of all the uncertainty surrounding this year’s college football playoff system.
The webinar, moderated by Mark Alnutt, the Director of Athletics at the University of Buffalo, featured Nick Carparelli, the Executive Director of the Bowl Season, Mike Nealy, the Executive Director of the Fiesta Bowl, and Steve Beck, President & Executive Director of the Military Bowl.
Alnutt highlighted that there are still some “unknowns” regarding the completion of the regular college football season and start of the postseason (for instance, many games are still up in the air because of the severity of the pandemic). Despite all of the uncertainty, Nealy and Beck indicated that the Fiesta and Military Bowls have still attempted to plan their games accordingly (while implementing all safety protocols). While Carparelli remains optimistic that the majority of games will still be played, because of the differences in state rules across the country, each bowl game could look different with respect to fan attendance (if any) as well as with respect to overall team experiences (for example, student-athlete participation may be more limited in ancillary bowl activities often associated with the event).
The unpredictability of the virus also creates complexity with regard to the eligibility of teams (bowl eligibility normally require at least six wins to participate; note that some teams have not even played six games to this point). With teams playing an inconsistent number of games, Carparelli underscored that flexibility will be needed in order to make this year’s series possible. In that vein, Alnutt alluded to NCAA Division I’s Football Oversight Committee’s recommendation, which ultimately led to the NCAA waiving bowl eligibility requirements. Still, the panel agreed that there should be a focus on inviting teams with more impressive resumes (while noting that geography, such as the proximity of teams, may also play a factor).
Another topic centered around additional safety measures that may be implemented during the bowl games with respect to both participating teams as well as the venue itself. Nealy, for example, alluded to the possibility of only those working the game allowed to be on the field, and that all involved (including student-athletes, coaches, and staff) will be tested 24 hours prior to the game.
The panel wrapped up the discussion on a positive note – the mere fact that the college sports industry is even in a position to have a bowl season this year, albeit different, is a huge bright spot for both student-athletes and fans, in an otherwise tragic year in America. The panel underscored that bowl games are a celebration of college football and an opportunity for local communities to come together across the country. “We will survive this year and be stronger than ever before,” said Beck.