Imagine an empty stadium on Saturday with a college football game being played. Now imagine an empty campus with a college football game being played this fall.
That's not what ACC commissioner John Swofford would prefer, but still months away from away from a football season unlike anything we've ever seen, anything it still possible.
As leagues around the country scale back plans for sports next fall and beyond, the ACC is making plans for any and all possibilities. And while definitions of how college campuses are open might differ, he would prefer that students be in session before college games could be played.
"That seems foreign to me, personally," Swofford said Thursday afternoon of games being played if campuses are closed. "Intercollegiate athletics is students playing sports. Personally, that seems foreign to me. We've have to wait and see. Most people I talk with in intercollegiate athletics and higher education agree that that's a foreign thought to most of us."
Swofford offered updates following several virtual meetings involving the ACC and the league membership's top administrators.
A COVID-19 medical advisory group, headed by Dr. Cameron Wolfe, associate professor of medicine at Duke, will monitor the virus' status and forecast its impact on college education and help assess when playing games will be safe and appropriate.
The league will also continue to study the recent NCAA board of governors decision to allow student-athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness. And Swofford told journalists that the league would distribute 98 percent of its planned payments to schools, despite the abbreviated ACC Tournament and cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
But the unknowns about fall football continue to take up most of Swofford's time and that of the leagues presidents and athletics directors.
"We'll have four different scenarios financially as we move forward that are related to playing a relatively normal football season, to playing an abbreviated football season," Swofford said.
He also said some sort of arrangement with the basketball seasons could create another scenario along with the worst case of no football at all.
"As you play a partial football season or you don't play football at all, then your revenue implications become more and more severe," Swofford said. "Consequently how you approach the sports season changes. We're doing our due diligence on all of those but with certainly the hope that we'll be playing as close to normal a situation as possible."
Swofford says that definitions of how college campuses are open might differ, but he would prefer to see students in session before college games could be played.
It's going to be a "new normal," he said, and there continue to be more questions than answers. But for the first time, colleges are beginning to realize that they might have to make a decision over playing football, not only in empty stadiums, but possibly with students not yet on campus.