Maybe this was a bit of a tell. If the Southeastern Conference was fully optimistic about having a football season this fall, would the SEC have kept things to a conference-only schedule as announced this week?

Conference-only play means no Florida-Florida State, no Georgia-Georgia Tech, no Clemson-South Carolina, no Kentucky-Louisville.

Smart move. The Atlantic Coast Conference had left room for those games when it announced a day earlier that the ACC would have only conference football play except for one game played in-state. Didn’t have to be an in-state opponent; could be Miami hosting Temple. But that wasn’t done with Temple-Miami in mind.

The SEC didn’t bite. The league still can’t know if there are going to be games, so let’s try hardest for the conference games, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 already announced they were doing. The ACC now must follow suit.

Will any of these games ever get to a kickoff? Ask Major League Baseball how much schedules are cast in stone. Obviously, everybody is watching everybody else, seeing what works right now. The NBA and WNBA are moving along in their bubbles? Noted. Major League Baseball, the travel-heavy outfit, is bogged down hard in positive COVID-19 cases, its whole season on the brink? Noted, especially since it’s pretty hard to create a true bubble in college sports.

I asked some Power 5 administrators, what are the top objects of observations right now?

“I’d say MLB, NASCAR, NBA,” one administrator said.

The NBA might be the surprise in that group.

“I’m looking more at game operations and monitoring injuries with the somewhat hasty return,” the administrator said.

Obviously, everyone in college sports also is looking at how the testing is going as athletes return to campus, and will get more data if more students are scheduled to return. Nobody has the luxury of looking at just the best-case testing outcomes. Let’s assume Rutgers is an object of particular scrutiny, after football workouts were stopped, after Rutgers football players tested positive for COVID-19, and reported a link to an on-campus party.

While most Division II and Division III leagues are suspending fall play, and some FCS-level leagues are either canceling or taking the slow approach, FBS football is still trying, still hoping to salvage some games and some revenue from this fall.

The Power 5 schools at least have the cash in hand to try testing. What the testing produces is now key. The Big Ten has been up front about all this, making no guarantees there will be fall football.

In the meantime, the scheduling news provided debate-worthy nuggets. The bigger ACC news was that Notre Dame would play a full ACC schedule just for 2020 (if there is a 2020 schedule), including being eligible for the ACC title game. That negotiation resulted in ACC schools’ also getting a share of Notre Dame’s 2020 NBC revenues.

Members of the Notre Dame football team sing at the end of a game against Virginia Tech last November.
Carlos Osorio / AP
Members of the Notre Dame football team sing at the end of a game against Virginia Tech last November.

Save the cries of “that’s not fair. Why does Notre Dame get special treatment?” Why? Because it brings a fan base and independent television revenue to the table, and also is the team others love to hate, the perfect lucrative foil for so much of the ACC. Notre Dame has been a full ACC member for other sports, so if this is special treatment, it’s for a friend.

To be clear, these scheduling notices are not just fodder to keep us occupied. If you’re trying to play, the timetable is now incredibly tight. Had to announce something, even if you’re not sure how many fans can walk in.

Let’s get back to what college football is looking at. Let’s start with … the Phillies. If an MLB team can’t get on the field after an opponent had a COVID-19 outbreak, how much hope is there for college football? So many of the same issues exist. You can’t really create a true bubble. You have to trust everyone to follow all the safe practices. You have to travel.

I wondered weeks ago if the college football season was going to end up being one game, Army-Navy, for all the marbles, in Philadelphia. I still wonder.