It seems like for every bit of progress we make towards being able to play college football in the fall, there are just as many setbacks that come with it.
Last Monday, student-athletes were permitted to return to campuses an participate in voluntary workouts. Getting athletes into shape before camps start in August is an important step to take for the season, however, returning with the students were also large numbers of positive COVID-19 tests, including across the Big 12.
Despite the setbacks, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown is not giving up on the 2020 season just yet.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Brown told reporters Wednesday. “I just think it’s going to be different, it’s going to be unique. There’s not going to be any type of normal activity until there’s a vaccine, but I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll play football, that’s how we’re preparing. I just think it’s going to be different.”
The “different” Brown is talking about pertains to both how teams will prepare and train this season and the product on the field.
“I think you’re going to see a simpler product maybe,” he said. “Practice time is probably going to be at a premium, I don’t know if you’ll have as much good-on-good work, ones versus ones as you normally would.”
Brown said that teams may have to split up practices, having something like the first and third-stringers practicing together and the second and fourth-stringers together. Brown said such a practice setup could limit the risk of a team losing a large number of top players to the virus all at once. However, Brown also said such a system would take up a lot of time meaning practices would have to be shorter and there would be less preparation time.
That kind of drastic change in preparation would have a direct effect on the product on the field, according to Brown. He said he would expect teams to make less week-to-week adjustments between each game and instead stick with somewhat simplified gameplans throughout the entire season. Even so, Brown said with how talented the student-athletes are and how smart coaches are, whatever product is on the field will still be enjoyable for fans to watch.
“Will the product be as clean, especially early in the year? I’m not sure. Will the average fan be able to see that? I’m not sure,” Brown said. “But I have faith…that’s it’s going to be a product that fans of college football will enjoy.”
Beyond playing games, Brown said everyone’s top concern is player safety, from the virus and otherwise. With two confirmed cases on his own team, Brown said keeping the number of cases down is more important than preparing for football right now.
“I think we’ve got to be outside-of-the-box thinkers about how we get our players to the game with keeping our virus numbers as low as possible and preventing injury. I think those are the most important issues.”
Teams will be able to begin football activities on July 13 with camps starting at the beginning of August.