If you know anything about Indiana head football coach Tom Allen, you know being a couch potato is not his style.
Known for his daily runs and seemingly never ending supply of energy, it is difficult to imagine Allen aimlessly lounging for hours on end.
But with the Big Ten now dug in on postponing its season to January at the earliest, and three leagues — the SEC, ACC and Big 12, tenuously moving forward with a fall campaign, for the first time in a long time Allen can sit and watch college football on Saturdays.
It should come as no surprise that the New Castle, Ind. native isn’t enthusiastic about his new found free time.
It turns out that he prefers the spectacle of game day a bit more than the big screen and a bag of chips.
“That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow as every week passes and you have to sit there and watch it, Allen said to reporters on a video conference this week.
“Just being honest, it’s going to be hard to watch games on a weekend when you’re supposed to be playing yourself. Not quite sure what that’s going to feel like yet. Never experienced it myself and not necessarily looking forward to it.”
What we also know about Allen is that he isn’t one to dwell on the past.
So while he may in fact have to watch what is left of college football play out from afar, Allen has stated repeatedly that the program is going to focus on things it can control.
But that is also where more frustration comes in.
With the Big Ten and Pac 12 out on postponement island, for the time being anyway, the rest of the FBS college football world is moving forward.
The leagues that are still playing have had more practice time and repetitions. The coaches in the other leagues are ostensibly proceeding with much more clarity about the future too.
It should come as no surprise that coaches in the ACC, SEC and Big 12 are using the Big Ten’s situation to their advantage.
Whispers of negative recruiting have surfaced all over the college football landscape over the last ten days.
Heard from a Big 10 coach overnight that I've known for 20 years that the conference being blamed for shutting down the sport is already impacting recruiting.
One top 2021 target told this coach's staff that he would go to a school in a conference that "supports football".
— Geoff Ketchum (@gkketch) August 11, 2020
Allen acknowledged that he was concerned about how the Big Ten’s current path forward will impact his program on the recruiting trail.
“That’s a big concern without question,” Allen said.
With its 2021 recruiting class almost complete, Indiana might have less of a concern than other programs provided that things return to normal next year.
“The biggest variable for me is what really happens in the winter and spring, and how it might effect the true big picture of recruiting,” Allen said. “Does it effect the 2021 season? As long as we can keep it contained to the 2020 year so that the 2021 class that goes with this year of recruiting, I see that not being effected as much. Obviously it’s not going to help. But our class is pretty close to being full at this point.”
Adding to the recruiting uncertainty will be the potential for a winter where the ACC, SEC and Big 12 are potentially able to resume live in-person recruiting visits while the Big Ten is in the middle of its season.
The NCAA has shut down in-person visits since March. Presumably it would level the playing field through the end of any Big Ten winter/spring season, but that is yet another unknown at this point.
While the NCAA appears likely to extend eligibility for all fall athletes to a six years to play five seasons model, a later Big Ten season will extend IU’s roster uncertainty to a later point than the schools that compete in the fall. That could impact recruiting as well.
“If you don’t have the departures out of those groups (fourth and fifth year seniors), then you can’t replace those numbers,” Allen said.
This is all stuff that Allen never imagined he would have to spend his time dealing with. He’s a football coach that has gotten accustomed to a calendar that hasn’t changed much during his time in the business.
Couple that with what projected to be one of Indiana’s best seasons in decades, and even the optimistic Allen can’t hide the disappointment.
“It has been very frustrating,” Allen said. “This has been a season that I have been looking forward to for a while, and then you get the rug pulled out from under you.”
Adding to the frustration no doubt is the fact that all of this has been handed down to the coaches without their input.
“You just always want to feel like in any organization that you’re a part of it, you have a voice and your voice is heard and you have an impact on how decisions are made,” Allen said.
Allen and his fellow Big Ten coaches are now trying to make sure their voices are heard as the league gets set to roll out a revised winter schedule in the coming weeks.
Multiple reports have indicated that the league might try to start a modified season in early January at dome stadiums throughout the Midwest.
For his part, Allen almost almost seemed like he preferred to just get the makeshift 2020 season out of the way, while ensuring a return to something resembling normalcy next fall.
“I do not want to see the 2021 season negatively involved,” Allen said. “I think that it is a big variable involved to make sure we are not putting too much of a workload on the body, so that’s where the later it (the 2020 season) goes, the less I feel good about it.”
Allen couldn’t hide his frustration and disappointment.
In many ways, the 2020 season was something he had worked his whole life for.
And then suddenly the coach reappeared, perhaps realizing that this is only temporary, and that his players and assistant coaches might be listening.
Whether it be in the winter, spring, or fall, Allen has at least one thing that feels normal.
He has a team to prepare.
“We will play again, and when we do, we’ll be ready,” Allen said.
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