Murray's Mailbag: What are the odds there will be college football in 2020?

Elijah Cooks
Elijah Cooks celebrates after scoring a touchdown in a win at San Diego State last season. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

I was leaving Total Wine this weekend when a man turned to his wife and said, "It's expensive being an alcoholic." I looked at him and could immediately tell he wasn't joking. So that was part of my weekend. Anyway, let's get to the questions for this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

Things are trending in the wrong direction. Almost exactly one month ago, Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth had this to say about his level of optimism there would be a 2020 fall sports season.

“We can’t predict the future, of course, but every week that goes by I get a little more optimistic that we’re going to have a fall sports season, that we’re going to play football and we’re going to be able to keep our students safe, our coaches and our staff safe and keep all of our families safe. I feel better about it almost every week because there’s new information, and we as a community in Northern Nevada have done a really good job. Hopefully we continue that trend, and if we continue that trend I think we’ll have a positive outcome.”

And he had plenty of reason to feel that way a month ago. But now? It's hard to be realistically optimistic given how poorly the United States (and Nevada) has handled the pandemic. We're seeing spikes all across the country, and Nevada has the worst Rt in the nation at 1.36 infections. Rt represents the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If it is under 1, the disease will die out eventually. Above 1 and it will continue growing. Only 10 states are under 1 right now. That's not good.

As I wrote last week, as a country we haven't earned the right to play sports in 2020. We've done a god awful job of containing COVID-19, and it could very well cost us college football in the fall as a result. There's no need to wave the white flag now with the season more than 50 days, but a decision will likely have to be made by early August, so we have a month to get things under control, which will be tough given the recent flurry of bad news on the COVID-19 front.

It's been a mixed bag in the Mountain West with Boise State and UNLV having to suspend operations due to positive tests while Colorado State has tested 127 student-athletes without a positive and Wyoming has conducted even more without a positive. New Mexico reported only one positive case. Unlike some MW schools, Nevada hasn't released any information on its testing, so it's unknown what results the Wolf Pack has had.

The financial incentive of playing a season remains huge, and whether or not college football is played in 2020 seems like it comes down to what the SEC and Big 10 want to do because those conferences have the most money on the line (and because the NCAA provides zero leadership on important issues). As a result, I still think there will be a 2020 football season this fall. I'll put that it at 60 percent chance of a fall season, a 30 percent chance of a spring season and a 10 percent chance of no season. The MW sent an email today telling media to save the date for its virtual media days (July 27-29), so it's at least moving forward with that.

In terms of the NFL, as I've written before, the league would continue to play even if nuclear bombs were going off in the United States every other day. The NFL does not care about player safety, so 99 percent chance it has a season this year.

In fiscal year 2019, Nevada football's budget was $10,710,232 and its men's basketball budget was $4,706,010, so that's a combined $15.4 million. Coaching salaries for those two sports are about $3.2 million. Add in support staff and you're probably around $3.7 million. You're talking about 98 full-ride scholarship slots and full cost of attendance stipends. That's around $3 million. You have housing and food to toss plus facility maintenance, equipment, uniforms, supplies, recruiting and membership dues. You're probably looking at $8 million to $9 million in fixed costs even if you don't play a game in 2020. A lost season would be hugely damaging. I honestly don't know how Nevada would make ends meet outside of getting an IOU from the university. It can't drop a sport and stay about the Division I minimum unless the NCAA grants a waiver, so there aren't any easy ways to cut costs if there is no football and basketball revenue.

I don't see those three playing together given the lateral quickness issues that would result, but you could see a lineup with three "bigs" that would include Meeks, Robby Robinson and one of Hymes or Washington. There are pros and cons to playing such a big group. The largest cons would come on defense, although Nevada could play a zone when it goes big to try and limit the potential liability of guarding the perimeter with that kind of size on the court. Additionally, on offense, having two big who can't stretch the defense to the 3-point line would clog some driving lanes, so that's why I'd be surprised to see Hymes and Washington play together (Hymes can shoot a three, but nobody is going to guard him out there). But Meeks is versatile enough to play small forward if Nevada wants to play big and have him out there with Robinson or DeAndre Henry and a true center.

There are 64 teams in the $1 million winner-take-all tournament, and I went through almost all of the rosters and didn't find a Wolf Pack alum, so I'm going with, "No."

Here is the story Bryan is referencing in case you missed it. There's definitely a problem. If you're losing your best players to the transfer portal because they don't like how they're being treated as people, it's an issue. One interesting thing that came from my interviews was the fact Coach Levens used basically the same template when she was the coach at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville as she did at Nevada, and it worked at lot better at SIUE, so there's an element of new-school players not reacting well to a more old-school approach, and players have more power than ever in terms of transferring. Coach Levens recruited all of the players who left last offseason, so it's either an issue of (a) being overly strict and controlling or (b) not recruiting the kind of person who can thrive with that style of coaching. Whichever one it is, it's on the staff because those were Coach Levens' players.

If I was Nevada's athletic director, I would be concerned because you want your student-athletes to first and foremost have a positive experience at your school, and the majority of the former players I spoke with did not have a positive experience playing for the Wolf Pack, and that had nothing to do with the city, the fans or the university. Even players who did stick it out and finish their careers at Nevada didn't enjoy their time. Almost all of them said they hated going to practice. They were largely worn out by the rules and schedules put in place, and most didn't feel a connection and bond with Coach Levens. I don't think a coaching change is in order because nothing illegal was done, but the culture was bad and needs to be fixed. Credit Coach Levens for listening to her players and trying to make some changes even if that came a little late.

Programs with bad cultures have turned things around without a coaching change before. Nevada men's golf is a good example. Early in coach Jacob Wilner's tenure, the Wolf Pack didn't even have enough golfers (five) to send to its conference tournament because of defections and internal issues. Now it is one of the top programs at the school with back-to-back NCAA Regional berths and strong team camaraderie. So it is possible.

No. I don't see it. Outside of Reno/Sparks and Las Vegas, Nevada's largest city is Carson City with a population of 55,274 and a location 30 minutes away from the University of Nevada. That's not a large enough population base to support a Division I type of college, and it's too close to Reno to warrant one, too. If any city could do it geographically, it'd be Elko, but the population base of 18,297 is too small.

Here is Colin Kaepernick's tweet from the Fourth of July.

It really doesn't matter what I feel about the tweet or how I feel about the Fourth of July. The day means different things to different people. In 1860, right before the Civil War, there were 4.4 million African-Americans in the country, and 89 percent of them were slaves (nearly four million people). So why would an African-American celebrate or feel the same way about American's "independence day" when nearly 100 years after that independence day almost 90 percent of them were still slaves? They weren't independent. They didn't have their freedom. Why would a Native American feel the same way about America's "independence day" as a white person when 90 percent of their population was wiped out by European colonization. You need look no further than the U.S. Constitution to find the "three-fifths compromise" where slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human. There was no independence for Black people in 1776, so why would that holiday be something they were celebrate in the same manner as Whites? If people want to celebrate the Fourth of July, that's fine. If others look at it in a different light based on how their racial predecessors were treated in this country, that's also fine. Not everybody has the same experience, and people should be open-minded enough to understand that and to listen to their stories.

I don't think he hates white people. That's not what I took from his tweet.

I still don't see him getting signed, and yes that is partially because an owner wouldn't feel like it could control his message, and nobody wants "distractions" out of their backup quarterback. Kaepernick has his Nike deal and his publishing company that just signed a contract with Disney. He has a Netflix series coming out and is working on a memoir. He doesn't need the NFL and the health risks that come with playing in the league, so I believe he feels comfortable saying whatever he feels without fear of retaliation. His career was already taken away from him. There's not much else that can be taken away at this point.

If Kaepernick were to actually sign with a team, the best fits would be Buffalo, Tennessee, Denver, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Seattle and the L.A. Rams. All of them need backup quarterback upgrades.

I don't think the national anthem should be played before sporting events. I wrote that in 2017, and my stance on it has not changed. As I wrote then:

"The national anthem isn't played before a movie rolls at a theater. It isn’t played before you start your work day. It isn’t played before the State of the Union address. It isn’t played when Congress convenes. It doesn’t need to be played before an NFL, MLB or NBA game. The fact the song isn't played before any of those aforementioned ventures doesn't make us any less proud of our country. It's not a slap in the face to our veterans. So, not playing it before a sporting event wouldn't be either."

The national anthem has become a patriotic loyalty test, so we'd be better off not having it played before sporting events.

Well, it depends on the coach. The only one from that group who would have for sure done a better job than Brian Polian is Nick Rolovich, and even he went 28-27 overall and 15-17 in the Mountain West at Hawaii, although he inherited a dumpster fire. If Rolovich would have replaced Ault, I figure he would have kept the Pistol with some tweaks and had more success than Polian, who went 23-27 overall and 14-18 in the MW. (Rolovich was on staff for three of those four seasons). James Spady got the Alabama A&M job and went 15-30, so that likely wouldn't have worked out. The most interesting hire would have been Jim Mastro, who helped create the Pistol offense and is known as a top-flight recruiter. I'm curious to see what he would have done if he replaced Ault, but he's never been a coordinator, so that would have been a big jump.

I don't ask for season-ticket numbers until right before the start of the season, so I don't know. And there's no need to refund right now. While things aren't looking great, a decision on the 2020 season doesn't need to be made until early August, which is a month away. But Nevada has said it will do refunds, which is nice considering how many places are doing credits for future purchases instead of refunds.

I would pick myself to manage the Dodgers. I feel like it'd be fun to manage a Major League Baseball team, and I could do no worse than Dave Roberts managing a bullpen in the playoffs, so I wouldn't be hurting my team in the process.

The Dodgers win 7-3 after Clayton Kershaw pitches six shutout innings, Corey Seager homers twice and JOE KELLY?!?!? gives up three runs to the Giants in the ninth inning because JOE KELLY?!?!? always gives up runs. San Francisco begins to social distance itself from first place in the NL West right out of the gate.

In MLB, players who out opt in the high-risk group, including those with heart disease, lung disease, cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes, get their full salary and service time for the season. For players who have high-risk family members and opt out, it's up to individual teams to decide whether to offer full salary and service time. Players not in the high-risk group who opt out don't get any salary or service time. That all seems fair. The economic impact of the pandemic will certainly hurt free-agents-to-be like Mookie Betts, who turned down a $300 million contract from the Red Sox pre-pandemic hoping to get $400 million plus. That's not happening now as teams can claim poverty even more than they usually do. Betts will be lucky to even get $300 million next offseason. You could see a lot of players take one-year deals to let the market recover. Betts could probably sign a one-year deal worth $40 million to $50 million for 2021. I'd do that and then hit free agency again prior to the 2022 season with teams having the chance to financially recover some more.

The unusual nature of the season will definitely make it harder for super accurate lines. Generally speaking, I think you'll see offense suppressed a little in 2020 as teams rely more heavily on their frontline starting pitchers and top relievers. Since it's a shortened season, relievers can be pushed even harder than usual since they don't have to be nursed over six-plus months of play.

In the 5A, I'd be hard to pick against Bishop Manogue given it has won the last two regional championships, has multiple future FBS players on its roster, has the best returning quarterback in area (Nevada-bound Drew Scolari) and has the best head coach in Northern Nevada in Ernie Howren. Damonte Ranch will be formidable, and Shawn Dupris is a great coach, but the Mustangs lost stud running back Ashton Hayes to McQueen.

In the 3A, Fernley is the defending state champion and the team to beat. The Vaqueros lose their starting quarterback, but they only threw 72 passes last season anyway. It's a run-first team that returns its top running back (Brandon Reyes) and five of its top-seven tacklers from last year. Plus, its chief competition, Churchill County, loses star quarterback Elijah Jackson. But nobody knows if we'll even have a season. With the NIAA recently setting some guidelines for the 2020-21 athletic season, I could see rural schools being able to play this year with teams in Clark and Washoe counties not being able to play. That'd make for some interesting playoffs.

We did the socially correct thing on the Fourth or July and stayed home all day, which is not ideal but it's what we have to do right now. And we live about three miles from where the fireworks in Damonte Ranch went off, so we got to watch those from fairly close range.

You can't go wrong either way, but I lean lake house because you then having boating options and can water ski, inner tube, kneeboard, etc. straight out of your backyard. I also like pine trees more than palm trees, and pine trees are far more abundant next to lakes.

We have a Traeger, so we do the pellets.

I either buy Stubbs, Sweet Baby Ray's or Bully's-eye, although I have a worthless food palate, so everything tastes the same to me.

I think Alex Margulies would want me to say him, so I will say him. Joey Chestnut ate 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes. I feel like I could do one every 40 seconds, so put me down for 15 over 10 minutes. That's the mark Alex would have to beat.

I didn't know that was in my bio, so I had to go look it up. The bio actually says I am "one of only three journalists in the country who has voted in every Associated Press Top 25 poll in football and men’s basketball since 2012." So that's both polls every year for the last eight seasons. Only three of us have done that. I know the The San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner is one of them. I don't know the other. But I have been notified by the AP that I will be voting in the Top 25 football poll again this season, so many angry emails from fans across the country await.

I have no idea what this means.

At the bottom of every story on NSN there are links to previously published stories, and while most of those rotate, I have noticed the story of Justice Hill's official visit to Nevada last September never filters out. It's almost always the first link that pops up, and yes he is there to mean mug you and tell you to read another story. Also, I cannot confirm or deny that story is set there on purpose because Hill eventually signed with Murray State, and I'm a big fan of MURRAY State. Hopefully that exact picture of Justice Hill is directly below the end of this article. See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to finish. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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