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Ten-game, Big Ten-only schedule seems likely for 2020

As the clock ticks toward the 2020 season, questions still hang over the college football season. Will it be played? If the season kicks off, how will it look? How many games will be played? When will it start? The questions come fast.

This fact appears to be coming into focus: Non-conference games will be punted and the Big Ten appears headed to playing a 10-game, conference-games-only schedule.

“Yes, it hasn’t been officially decided,” said a Power 5 head coach. “We have a big meeting tomorrow (Thursday, July 9). But, yeah, it just seems to me that probably in the last week and a half, I could just kind of tell from the tone of our leadership that that's the direction that they want it to go and felt most comfortable going. Nothing has been decided. Nothing's official. But I would be surprised if it's not that.”

When could a decision be made on a move from a 12- to a 10-game schedule, with each Big Ten school jettisoning its three non-conference games?

“Probably in the next eight to 10 days,” said the source.

Purdue is slated to play Memphis and Air Force at home, while traveling to Boston College.

The 10 games probably would be played over 13-14 weeks.

“They're just trying to create flexibility if a team gets a bunch of cases and they can't play one week," said the source. "They want flexibility. Control and flexibility are key. Give yourself maybe two or three weeks of flexibility with 10 games over 13, 14 weeks. … that gives you flexibility to maneuver games around if a team can't play because they get too many cases.”

There is a chance the season still could start on time, with most schools already slated to begin Saturday, September 5.

“You have two schools of thought here,” said the source. “They have asked us about starting Week Zero, because they are worried about the second wave (of the virus). I think September 5 is likely. Could they move it back to the 12th? Yes, that wouldn’t surprise me, either. I don't think any further back then the 19th.

"I know the Pac-12 is talking about that right now, starting later, which would allow for more time for testing to be more accurate and just to be able to get your guys more prepared. If I had to guess now, I’d say we start the fifth or the twelfth.”

For almost a month, schools have had football players on campus going through voluntary workouts. Mandatory work will soon follow. Then, training camp. But the early results have been mixed, with myriad players across the nation testing positive for COVID-19 despite schools have stringent health measures in place. That raft of positive tests has made many wonder: How will players stay healthy when they are all together for practices later in the summer? And what happens when all students flood campus?

That brings us to the issue of testing:

“They're trying to figure that all out right now," said the source. "It’s a two-day turnaround, which is probably too long in the normal week. By the end of Wednesday's practice, most of your prep is done. If you find out after that if a kid can't play, you're going to be kind of hosed. So, there are a lot of questions.”

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It seems likely that Purdue and the rest of the Big Ten will play just 10 games in 2020.
It seems likely that Purdue and the rest of the Big Ten will play just 10 games in 2020. (USA Today)

Keeping upwards of 100 players free from infection seems to be a daunting task.

"You realize how quickly this thing can spread to group," said the coach. "You say you wanna keep them separate. Well, good luck doing that. I mean, you can't. So, I mean it's just going to be a very big challenge and you could wipe out a whole position group in one infection and one side of the ball. Guys better be ready to play. And we need to have guys prepared to play. That’s gonna be our approach."

With player attrition likely as players are forced to quarantine, rosters could be maxed out. So redshirting may be a luxury in 2020.

"You're gonna have to have three-deep at every spot, which sounds great, but it's hard to do," said the source. "You're going to be playing guys that probably aren't ready to play yet. The whole redshirt thing ... We have talked about allowing freshmen to play in six games (instead of four) and still redshirt."

The questions go on and on and cast a pall over the 2020 season. Financially, so much is on the line.

"I'm very realistic about this but I think it's just going to be a challenge to pull it off," said the source. "But we're gonna definitely try. We all want to play and we're doing everything we can do to play, but it's gonna be something we never have experienced before.”

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