Title Will Be 'Vacated' if No Team Can Play in CFB Championship Game Because of COVID

The College Football Playoff announced contingency plans for their scheduled games December 31 and January 10 if one or more teams is experiencing a COVID outbreak on the day of the game, including the possibility of a vacated national title if none of the four playoff teams have enough players for the championship game.

The Playoff's Executive Committee approved the plans this week as professional and college sports are both moving to handle rising COVID cases, causing the postponement or cancellation of several games in recent weeks.

If one team is unavailable for a December 31 semifinal game, currently scheduled to be No. 1 Alabama facing No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, followed by No. 2 Michigan against No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl, that team will forfeit the game and the available team will be advanced to the national championship game scheduled for January 10 in Indianapolis.

If both teams involved in a semifinal game are unavailable, the game will be declared a no contest, and the winner of the other semifinal will be declared the national champion. If three of the four semifinal teams are unavailable for the December 31 games, or one team is unavailable for the national championship game, the one available team will be declared national champion.

There are no scenarios outlined in the plan where either semifinal game would be rescheduled, but the championship game could be pushed back as far as January 14.

If neither team has enough players for the national championship to take place from January 10 to January 14, the title will be declared vacated with no official champion.

College Football Playoff, Championship, COVID Contingency Plans
With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country due to the Omicron variant, the CFP announced contingency plans Wednesday for the semifinals and national championship game, which is scheduled for January 10 in Indianapolis. Above, the College Football Playoff logo is shown on the field at AT&T Stadium before the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game between Notre Dame and Alabama in Arlington, Texas, on January 1. Roger Steinman/Associated Press File

Not long before the CFP announced its contingency plans, Alabama announced offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone had tested positive for COVID-19 and were isolating with mild symptoms.

Also, Texas A&M became the first team to drop out of a bowl game, citing COVID-19 issues and season-ending injuries as the reasons it would not have enough available players for the Gator Bowl against Wake Forest on December 31.

As college basketball faced a wave of cancellations and postponements due to the Omicron surge over the last week, it seemed only a matter of time before the surge impacted bowl season.

"As we prepare for the Playoff, it's wise and necessary to put into place additional precautions to protect those who will play and coach the games," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said in a statement. "These policies will better protect our students and staffs while providing clarity in the event worst-case scenarios result."

The contingency plans were agreed to by the CFP management committee, comprised of the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director.

Semifinals participants were scheduled to arrive at their bowl sites as soon as Christmas Day and no later than December 26.

Now, all bowl activities will be optional, and the teams are permitted to arrive at their sites as late as December 29.

Earlier this week, Alabama coach Nick Saban said more than 90% of his team was vaccinated with a booster shot, and players were being allowed to go home for a few days before the defending national champion Tide travel to Dallas on December 26.

"We give them a care package with everything they need to stay safe, and we have implemented all the protocols here since we've been back that we had last year in terms of wearing masks to meetings, washing hands, social distancing in meetings," Saban said. "And we are encouraging the players to do that when they leave here. So we're really putting the protocols in place that we used a year ago, which was helpful to us."

At Michigan, the plan was for all the players to get booster shots as a team on Wednesday.

"I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation, to have an outbreak now would be devastating to a lot of people," offensive lineman Andrew Stueber told reporters Tuesday. "Understanding the concern there is a big thing, so we've taken the proper precautions there."

The vaccination rates among college football teams are purportedly much higher than the general population. Many coaches boasted about how the vast majority of their players had been immunized before the season—including Georgia's Kirby Smart and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh.

Most schools have been operating under guidelines that do not require regular surveillance testing of vaccinated individuals. Only those who show symptoms are required to be tested for COVID-19, and vaccinated individuals were no longer subjected to long quarantines after being exposed to an infected person.

The CFP policies said schools would be allowed to use whatever protocols they used during the season, leading up to the games.

"The director of athletics and the institution's chief medical officer must certify that each person with access to the playing field on game day has tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the kickoff or has been fully vaccinated," the policy said.

The high vaccination rates helped major college football sail through the regular season with no games being canceled or postponed, unlike last year when the disruptions were constant.

Last season, more than 100 regular-season games were postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 issues with one or both teams, and only 25 bowl games were played out of the 42 that had been originally scheduled.

The College Football Playoff was completed without delays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

College Football Playoff, Championship, COVID Contingency Plans
Wednesday, the CFP announced contingency plans for the rescheduling or canceling of the upcoming semifinal and championship games as COVID cases rise around the country. Above, the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is seen during the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017, in Tampa, Florida. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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