Back to campus: athletic departments preparing for college football

College Sports

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Will there be college football in 2020? That is the million dollar question. Athletic departments across the country are preparing their staffs for the upcoming season, despite growing uncertainty amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to play or not to play is complicated. It is also unclear who is going to give the green light to take the field and if programs across college football’s landscape will act as one collective body.

“I’m not the ultimate arbiter of this,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in an interview with NBC Sports. “It’s going to be a decision made by each of the campuses and they are going to have to make it on their own.”

UTEP is scheduled to open the season on Saturday, September 5 against Texas Tech at Sun Bowl Stadium. While the university is prepared to make tough decisions, they will rely heavily on Conference USA for guidance.

“As the president of the university, I am responsible for the health and safety of our students,” said UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson. “So, Mark Emmert is right in that sense, but at the same time, we meet as a conference. You can’t have a football game if there’s only one team on the field.”

If programs, like UTEP, rely on their conferences for a plan in 2020, where does that leave New Mexico State? The Aggies are without a conference after becoming an FBS Independent following the 2017 season.

“We are an independent entity when it comes to football. We have our own capability to make our own decisions,” said New Mexico State President Dr. John Floros. “If we play a university whose conference or institution says they aren’t going to have football games, we have the ability and freedom to replace that game.”

The goal for UTEP and New Mexico State is to play the college football season as scheduled in 2020, especially from a financial standpoint. The Aggies are set to collect paychecks for games at UCLA and Florida. The Miners have a ‘money game’ on the books for September 19 at Texas.

In order for the season to start on time, coaches need adequate time to get their players ready for a 12-game season. Last week the NCAA Division I council voted to allow student-athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 1, 2020, but even that decision is out of the hands of the NCAA.

“Just because the NCAA says, ‘hey everybody, it’s okay. Starting June 1st you can start working out.’ The problem is every single institution has a different tolerance level in their thought process to mitigate risk associated with allowing students to get back on campus,” said UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter.

June 1 is a stretch for both programs, but the second or third week of June has become a reasonable target date. However, there is a long list of guidelines and safety precautions that must be taken between now and when student-athletes return to campus.

“Mandatory testing of all of our student-athletes,” said New Mexico State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia. “If there are positives, we need to isolate them immediately and do the forensics on who they might have been around – roommates, other teammates, or what have you. Daily temperature checks and disabling all of the hydration stations is something we’ll do and go to individual bottles of water. That’s just the beginning of it.”

Athletic directors are becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. They are coming up with backup plans and backup plans to the backup plan. The goal is to get back to football, but with the health and safety of student-athletes on the line, the decision to tee it up and kickoff the season won’t come lightly.

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