If the coronavirus pandemic continues for multiple months, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said Thursday that the 2020 college football season could potentially be impacted … "if football is played, period." Mendenhall told a small group of reporters he is already preparing his program to begin from scratch -- with no spring practice or formal training -- on or around Aug. 1 with the beginning of fall camp.
"We're preparing exactly with that model in place," Mendenhall said during a videoconference. "We're acting as if, and we're making preparations as if, we won't have spring practice. We possibly won't have players here for summer school, any session, and possibly we won't have the opportunity for anything other than fall camp to begin.
"Knowing that fall camp timing might even be pushed back, meaning that there certainly could be a chance that it's not even be a full schedule played this year -- if football is played, period."
To date, Mendenhall is the highest-profile voice in the sport who has even suggested a full season could not be played. The FBS season begins in less than six months on Saturday, Aug. 29. The overwhelming majority of programs start in Week 1 on Saturday, Sept. 4.
"I'm willing to look at that vision as far as possible saying, 'What if there is no football this season,' or 'What if there is a modified season?'" Mendenhall said.
The fifth-year Virginia coach is a member of the American Football Coaches Association board of trustees. He has spoken only informally about the subject with his peers.
"Solutions are so wide-ranging right now and have to be because of a lack of a definitive end point to [the virus]," Mendenhall said.
AFCA executive director Todd Berry, after recently speaking with medical professionals, relayed to CBS Sports their opinion: "This [virus] is probably going to plateau in a couple of weeks." Of course, Berry added that those medical professionals are "not writing this down in concreate."
If games are missed at all, it could have a tremendous impact on college athletics. College football revenue is the foundation for FBS athletic departments.
Asked to consider a season without college football, one Power Five athletic director said, "We'd end up cutting sports. We'd be firing people."
The NCAA doesn't stage a championship in the FBS, so it is unclear what role it would have in canceling games or the season. The NCAA would have a hand in adjusting spring practice dates.
Mendenhall said a season could still be considered legitimate with only eight ACC conference games.
"The first step would be to eliminate nonconference games from the schedule … and only play a conference schedule," Mendenhall said. "Knowing that would still be challenging … but in relation to the options we have, that certainly might be doable. Once you are under eight games, that probably becomes a non-legitimate season."
Medical officials have urged social distancing with the coronavirus spreading. Most FBS conferences have formally canceled spring practice. Schools have been closed. Classes are being taught online. Coaches are meeting online with players.
Football coaches have weighed their programs' future since the NCAA Tournament last week.
New Boston College coach Jeff Hafley said starting from scratch on Aug. 1 "would be hard. If that's the worst case … yeah, we'll get them ready," he added.
"There's nothing like actually going out and doing it and being coached how to do it and feeling it and making mistakes and getting them corrected," he said. "I would love us if the NCAA gave us some time, whether we got back in June [and] we were able to get an extra mini-camp. I think these are things that are going to have to be thrown out on the table."
"The kids that aren't great workout kids anyway are going to suffer," he said. "The at-risk academic kids are going to suffer. Summer becomes even more important with your conditioning."
Former Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie said a program would need as much as two months to prepare before fall camp.
"If they're going to maintain the same starting dates for all the games, I would hope and pray they would get a good 7-8 weeks of training in," said Mannie, who recently retired after 25 years with the Spartans. "That would mean coming back in June prior to reporting to camp. Anything less than that it will be difficult."
Coaches would have be mindful of not doing too much too soon with athletes who would have been off from activities for more than two months.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was asked this week how confident he was there would be a football season.
"That's my focus," he said during a conference call. "I'm a half-full perspective person. I have optimism."