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Hurricane stokes talk of extending college football season

In this Sept. 8 photo, fans sit in the stands at Vanderbilt Stadium during the second half of a game between Vanderbilt and Nevada in Nashville, Tenn.

With an eye toward player safety and scheduling flexibility, the NCAA last year considered ways to lengthen the college football season so every team would have 14 weeks to play 12 games every year.

It didn’t come to pass.

The topic popped up again this week as Hurricane Florence prompted the cancellation, postponement or relocation of more than a dozen games, just two weeks after two other games were called off because of lightning in the Midwest.

A longer season with more open dates would increase the chances of rescheduling games impacted by weather.

But issues that kept coaches from supporting a permanent 14-week season — mainly, having to start preseason camp in July — are still a factor and unpredictable weather is not likely a big enough headache to change things.

“Every year this is going to happen a couple times,” said Jon Nese, a meteorologist for Penn State and a former storm analyst for The Weather Channel. “It doesn’t leap off the page to me as something that is a primary discussion item.”

This season, for the first time, each Football Bowl Subdivision conference will play a conference championship game on the first Saturday in December.

With that in mind, the NCAA oversight committee in 2017 did a deep dive on what it would take to allow teams to have two open dates every season.

“Aspirationally, what we wanted to do was build in some recovery time for the players during the course of the season and try and do it in a way that was equitable,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the former chairman of the oversight committee. “In the end, the 14-week season with the two byes just wasn’t going to work from a practical standpoint so we moved away from it.”

The problem: There was no good way to compress preseason practice into August. When the NCAA eliminated two-a-day practices, a long-time staple of preseason football, it also cut down the number of total practices allowed from 29 to 25. That way teams could continue to start practice in early August and give players the required amount of time off.

To play games the week before Labor Day weekend and still work in 25 practices, teams would have to start practicing in July. Bowlsby said some 14-week schedule scenarios had teams opening practice as early as July 20, even before some players would be done with courses they often take to lighten the academic load during the season.

“For some universities it was actually before their summer school classes were over,” Bowlsby said.

Creating space to reschedule games that might get postponed by potentially dangerous weather, a task that is near impossible now, never came up in the 14-week season discussion, Bowlsby said.

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