EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — As we have seen over the course of the first two months of the college football season, playing through a pandemic has proven to be difficult.
Entering Week 8, 32 games have been postponed or canceled altogether due to COVID-19. The UTEP football team had avoided interruption until last week, when their Conference USA home opener against Southern Miss was postponed due to increased cases of COVID-19 on the Golden Eagles roster. A makeup date has yet to be announced by the league.
“Southern Miss just wasn’t able to field a team that would have been competitive,” said UTEP head football coach Dana Dimel. “They were worried about positive cases on Friday and putting kids on a plane is the feedback that I got.”
While other leagues across the country have a minimum threshold of 53 players on a gameday roster, Conference USA has no such parameters. However, the league does continue to test student-athletes three times per week.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in El Paso, the UTEP coaching staff is putting in longer hours off the field in order to play a full league schedule. However, NCAA rules dictate coaches are only allowed 20 hours of contact with their student-athletes per week, making it even tougher to keep everyone in line and on the same page.
“It’s so difficult as a head coach right now,” said Dimel. “You are just dodging all the time. Three times per week your players are getting tested and you don’t know what’s going to happen. El Paso is soaring through the roof with positive cases. We are trying to keep our guys locked in and that’s the big concern.”
Dimel, who is well-known across the college football landscape to be a player’s coach, has taken on a more fatherly role as a head coach this year than any other year in his 33 years of coaching.
“I’m giving them messages and I’m just being dad,” Dimel joked. “I’m all over these guys, but you only have so much control over 19, 20-year-old guys. I try to keep them locked in to football as much as I can, but you only get 20 hours per week with these guys. There’s limitations on the time you can spend with these guys — 17 [hours] and 3 [hours] for the game. That’s the other concern — you can only have them with you so much. The rest of the time they are out-and-about and we are trying to make sure they are doing everything the right way and we are blessed they have [been doing things the right way] and staying healthy, but it’s a blessing is all it is. It’s certainly not anything I’m going to take credit for.”
For now, UTEP will control what they can control. The Miners will travel to Charlotte in a matchup against the 49ers on Saturday, looking for their first win in an eastern time zone game in program history. UTEP is 0-24-1 all-time playing in the eastern time zone. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET.