The president of the N.C.A.A. told congressional Republicans this week that the football season this fall could be shortened, with the regular season perhaps ending by Thanksgiving because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a call on Wednesday with members of the House Republican whip team and other sports executives, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, said he anticipated that the college football season would begin around Labor Day as usual if games could be held within the regulations and guidelines of individual states.
But Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, who participated in the call, said that Emmert also said the schedule may ultimately be truncated and that certain championships, like conference title games, could be played by Thanksgiving.
The N.C.A.A. declined to comment. Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, which operates apart from the N.C.A.A., said playoff organizers were “planning to play on schedule” in January 2021.
College football does not have a central governing authority, and Emmert does not have the power to set or modify the sport’s schedules. But he has been advising conferences about how a season might proceed, and his cautionary words to lawmakers suggest that, despite many sports executives’ optimistic public ambitions, top officials have serious doubts about the trajectory of a season during a pandemic.
College sports executives, some of whom have begun to welcome student-athletes back to campuses this month for voluntary workouts, have been studying an array of options for holding a football season, including staging games with limited attendance or no spectators. But Emmert’s outlook to lawmakers, coming after some universities modified their academic calendars and planned for in-person classes to conclude by Thanksgiving, made clear that the architecture of the season itself remains very much in doubt.
College football’s regular season ordinarily concludes the weekend after Thanksgiving, with league championship games played in early December. Bowl games, as well as the trio of games that make up the playoff, typically follow later in December and go into January. The upcoming season’s national championship game is scheduled to be played in the Miami area on Jan. 11.
Public health experts and federal officials, though, have said that the country could face a so-called second wave of coronavirus infections this autumn and winter, raising the notion that the season could be cut short, whether by deliberate design or by emergency order.
Colleges and universities have essentially accepted that some campuses will face outbreaks, including some around their athletic communities, and have focused much of their attention on containing the spread of the virus while preserving some semblance of normalcy.
An abridged schedule, if it comes to pass, would be jarring to fervent college football fans. But any games are financial lifelines for schools that would each stand to lose millions of dollars if the season were completely scrubbed.
Emmert was one of five sports executives to brief influential lawmakers during a call organized by Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican. The leaders of NASCAR, the N.F.L., the N.H.L. and the PGA Tour also participated, congressional officials said.
“They all said they’re going to be respectful of whatever state we’re operating in has for criteria in terms of crowd sizes and all that,” Walden recalled.
Other leagues are aiming for robust schedules beginning this summer and into the fall, potentially crowding calendars with a succession of live sporting events following months of cancellations.
The pandemic hit college sports especially hard, forcing the cancellations of the national men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and depriving universities of crucial revenues.
But the N.C.A.A. has acknowledged that, despite its membership’s financial reliance on major events, like football games, it may take a different approach than professional leagues. And its approach may be scrambled from one state or conference to the next.
“In the end,” the N.C.A.A. said in guidelines it updated late last month, “school and governmental leadership determine who can participate in, assist with, and watch student-athlete practices and competition.”
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