Moving college football's 2020 season to the spring because of COVID-19 has been called a "last resort" by Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour and carries its own set of problems -- namely, its proximity to the following 2021 season. But there's another potential hurdle with spring college football: players opting out of the season entirely in favor of the NFL draft.
Some high-profile players have opted to sit out of their respective bowl games in recent years in a business move as they prepare for the draft, but no one has sidelined themselves for an entire season. Speaking with Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah believed "40 to 50" players could sit out the season if it was moved from the fall to the spring.
"I think agents are already working on guys to shut it down if that's what ends up happening," Jeremiah said. "It's such a weird/unique situation. I think it could cost 15 to 20 of them a round, but it would also remove the risk of them dropping much further due to injury or poor performance."
The Athletic polled 20 FBS coaches to gauge what players on their rosters would do if the season was pushed to the spring. Half said they expected two or fewer players to sit out while another eight coaches expected anywhere from three to eight players to sit. Two coaches expected more than eight of their players to opt out.
Though no coaches or programs were mentioned specifically, it stands to reason that NFL factories like Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and the like could see more players sit. Surefire high first-round picks such as quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, who stand to lose little by sitting, would be making a logical choice. Lawrence has said in the past that he has no intentions of sitting out at any point in his career, but that was before a global pandemic put college football's 2020 season on the ropes.
"If I was an elite player, if I was a first-round (projected pick), I wouldn't play," a Power Five coach told Feldman.
Another coach remarked that a player could partake in part of the season before sitting out.
"If a guy has that great game or played well by say Game 4, does he then step away to get ready for the draft? That could be a real thing," the coach said.
A spring season would likely have to be modified, too. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already moved to conference-only games and the Ivy League has punted on fall football but will reevaluate the possibility of playing in the spring after Jan. 1. With an already disrupted schedule, it's unlikely teams could do a full schedule; in fact, the season might have to be condensed even further if coaches want to preserve the amount of snaps players are taking if they aren't moving on to the NFL draft.
Realistically, a small percentage of college football players realistically have the option to sit. Draft stocks are fluid piece of information that become more complete as more tape becomes available. If college football is moved to the spring, the last tape on any player would have been from a year and a half ago.
As with anything for the upcoming season -- if there's a season -- there are more questions than answers, and none of them are easy. But if college football is moved to the spring, don't be surprised if at least a small number of big-name players decide it's time to move on.