With over 21 states reaching new records of COVID-19 cases, nothing seems safe from this pandemic. And yes, that means football too. News broke that the NFL has now cancelled the Pro Bowl and is postponing seasonal games left and right. With the Big Ten season about to get underway and Pac-12 starting up their season soon, many fans wonder what the future holds. The 2020 football season kicked off late not only for the Big Ten and Pac-12, but also for other conferences, like the Big Sky conference. Many are left wondering what this late start for college football means for the NFL draft in 2021.
The 2020 NFL draft had to move to a fully virtual format this year, and the 2021 draft may also be a virtual event. Sports experts are saying “hopefully not.” But how can the draft be held reasonably when there is a lack of information on future players? Former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow tweeted, “I feel for all college athletes right now. I hope their voices are heard by the decision makers. If this happened a year ago I may be looking for a job right now.” Burrow was drafted early on in the 2020 NFL Draft and is currently playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. With seasons starting later, scouts are having a hard time providing information for these very decision-makers before the NFL Combine, a showcase of skills including the 60-yard dash, bench press and passing routes.
Typically, scouts hop around from university to university to observe future NFL players, which requires a lot more travel than COVID-19 currently allows. If scouts are unable to travel, face-to-face interviews will have to be halted, and conferences via Zoom and WebEx may be the only way to access information on future NFL prospects. This inhibits the ability of being able to see players in their natural state and can impact how players are viewed. While a few football players have opted out of the 2020 season to focus on preparation for the draft, others are continuing to play to ensure they stay ready.
When news broke that the Big Sky Conference will play in spring 2021, new questions surfaced. The NFL Combine is a hotspot for scouts to gather information as athletes from all around the country arrive in Indianapolis. The Combine occurs in February, which is before the Big Sky Conference begins. For any future Bobcat planning to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, the true test will happen before they’ve even had the chance to play with their teammates on the field. With COVID-19 already limiting the ability for teams to practice, those who do not get to play until spring are lacking the familiarity of playing on the field at all.
COVID-19 has created many challenges, and has limited those who are planning to continue their athletic career post-college. Not only has the pandemic pushed back games, but the virus has also had costly impacts on the future of the NFL. While the NFL has been experimenting in the past with different ways to do the Combine, the new guidelines will not do much to help those who have lost out on play experience in the 2020 fall season.