EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Game on.
UTEP football took the practice field for the first time on Sunday after four positive COVID-19 test results delayed practice for over a week. On Monday, all of UTEP’s re-test results came in and while there are other positives on the team, the Miners had the overwhelming majority of their players on the field gearing up for a full 12-game schedule while 54 other Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs sit at home and watch.
“They need to understand what a great opportunity this is and for the kids whose leagues have decided not to play, they’re so frustrated,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “That’s what they do. That’s why you’re a college football player.”
Petitions across the country are becoming more and more prevalent. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has collected over 260,000 signatures pleading with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, university presidents and athletic directors with a simple message: we want to play.
“I definitely still feel fortunate to be playing because there’s a lot of players out there that are doing everything they can to try to get to play,” said UTEP freshman quarterback TJ Goodwin. “There’s people out here trying to put everything on the line to play this season. Not being able to play puts a lot of complications on people. I wake up with a smile everyday knowing I get to go out there and play.”
According to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, Conference USA will decide on testing protocols this week. Power Five programs are testing three times per week, something UTEP will adhere to the week they play Texas out of the Big 12.
“We are committed to the best practices at UTEP,” said UTEP director of athletics Jim Senter. “My sense is, based on the meetings I’m in, our league is committed to the best practices and we’re going to meet whatever those standards are.”
While these may be uncharted waters for those who plan to play football this fall, programs like UTEP believe they have everything in place to keep student-athletes and coaches healthy this season, but it’s on them to follow the plan.
“The big message is that we are in a bubble here,” said Dimel. “We are testing regularly and it’s a lot safer environment where we are than it is out-and-about. They need to understand that.”
“Contact tracing is the most important thing that we do when we do testing,” said Senter. “We are going to follow our protocols and we’re going to make sure people are doing the right things and we’re going to test to try to suppress the virus.”
Now the question becomes who the Miners will play this season. UTEP had games against Texas Tech, Nevada, and New Mexico State canceled. Senter confirmed to KTSM 9 Sports that a nonconference schedule is set with home games on Sept. 5 and Sept. 19, as well as road games on Sept. 12 (vs. Texas) and Sept. 26. Opponents have yet to be announced as contracts are still in the process of being finalized.