The NCAA’s legislative Division I Council is likely to propose a mandatory 14-week season for every college football team, USA Today’s Dan Wolken reported Wednesday. The upshot of that is that, if such a policy were enacted, each program would get at least two in-season byes.
To clarify, the 14-week season isn't a formal proposal yet. It was discussed, sounds like it will be a priority.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) January 18, 2017
For most teams, the current season is 13 weeks long. Week 1 this year was the first weekend in September and Week 13 was the last weekend in November. Conference championship weekend always comes a week later, while Army and Navy have the season’s 15th week generally to themselves. For the most part, teams get just one bye week, the same number NFL teams get (though the pros play four more games).
Practically, a 14-week regular season could mean a few different changes. If the NCAA wants to preserve the sanctity of Army-Navy having its own weekend at the end of the season, it has two choices: push that game back into mid- or late December, or start the season a week earlier, around the end of August.
Because the sport’s big bowl games will never move off the few days around New Year’s Eve, any pushing back of the regular season would necessarily shorten the time between the regular season and bowl games. Having most teams begin the season a week earlier would avert that change before bowl season begins, allowing them to fit an extra bye week into the current regular-season timeframe.
Schedules for the 2017 season are already locked in, and there’s still been no official action toward the extra bye. The move to a 14-week slate couldn’t come sooner than 2018 or 2019, even if the NCAA moves forward on it shortly.
This is a good idea, and the NCAA’s powers that be should make it happen.
An extra bye week doesn’t carry obvious downsides for anyone. Every team plays the same number of games, so programs wouldn’t be losing revenue as a result of spreading them out. Fans of college football in general would enjoy a season that’s longer by one week. TV networks wouldn’t be getting more games, but spreading them out could allow them to broadcast more of them to more people.
But that’s all secondary. The most important thing about a second bye week is that it would make the sport incrementally easier on the bodies of those who play it. It would mean more recovery time for players, and it might even give them time to catch up on their academic and social lives during the season.
It’s a reform that would hurt nobody. It’s not a home run that fixes football’s safety problems forever, but it’s a solid single that only makes the game better.