“Wild and woolly.”
That’s how BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe described the current state of college football during the COVID-19 pandemic when he talked on BYU Sports Nation on Monday morning.
“It might take a year, a year and a half or even two years to put together the contract for a game,” Holmoe said. “Now we’re trying to figure things out in two weeks. Everyone is kind of at a standstill waiting to see what will happen with the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. Then we have to see what the SEC, the ACC and Big 12 decide to do. It is such a moving picture and every day is a new day. But you have to stay with it. When they say we’re going to play, we have a schedule.”
The Cougars were put in a precarious position when the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced they would be playing conference-only schedules in all of their sports.
That eliminated five games from the BYU football schedule, but Holmoe pointed out that the Cougars aren’t alone in trying to figure out what to do.
There have been reports that BYU might schedule replacement games with high-profile opponents like Alabama, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State but Holmoe said those are just talks at this point.
“Everyone is being very active,” Holmoe said. “There have been a lot of communication and conversations with people. When those two conferences announced they would be going conference-only, athletic directors and coaches had to start sprinting to get games. There have been a lot of conversations and some of them have been reported. I think that will continue until the point where we are having football.”
Another possibility that has been brought up was Notre Dame, since the Fighting Irish still have a contractual obligation to play a game in Provo at some point.
When asked if that might happen this year, Holmoe told BYU Sports Nation, “maybe.”
“Notre Dame is an entity of its own,” Holmoe said on the show. “Notre Dame is independent in football but has a scheduling agreement with the ACC, which is still trying to work out how to do their schedule. It’s still in a holding pattern. It’s difficult for them but they have a little to fall back on with the ACC.”
Holmoe said that with everything happening as it is now, there might be a chance that BYU creates a similar relationship with a conference.
“Anything is possible and on the table,” Holmoe said. “I’ve never had to deal with this and neither has anyone else in the modern era. I’m not surprised by many things that come my way right now.”
Holmoe emphasized that the relationship with ESPN remains one of BYU’s strengths.
“They are a partner of ours and we have a great relationship, but they are also talking with many others schools and with other broadcasting stations,” Holmoe said. “They are trying to figure out how it all fits together with reduced schedules and fewer fans — if any— at the games. We’ve had positive conversations and can move forward with various possibilities.”
The reality of the situation at the moment is that it is complicated and uncertain with many things still to be determined, according to Holmoe.
Power-5 conferences like the SEC, ACC and Big-12 might follow the lead of the Big Ten and Pac-12 and go to conference-only modules. Group of 5 conferences might follow suit.
BYU could end up working things out with the other independents to play more of an independent-only schedule.
The last choice, Holmoe told BYU Sports Nation, would probably be to move all fall sports to spring.
“What I’m hearing is that it is the last resort,” Holmoe said. “The SEC, ACC and Big 12 are going to do everything they can to play football this year. But we have a couple of weeks and then that window is going to close. If it does, then we step to the next process which would be looking at moving everything to the spring. We have looked at it a little bit and it is very, very complicated. But we would look to do it if that is what we are told to do.”
If games are played this fall, Holmoe said that the current situation in Utah would allow some fans to be in attendance.
“Right now because of the status of the state of Utah, it is in a position where it is open,” Holmoe said. If we were playing tomorrow, it would probably be a reduced number of fans who would be able to come. We’ve worked through who it would be and the percentages of what groups, where they would be able to sit to be safe with social distancing and health in mind of fans and staff.”
Health is the key in all of the scenarios since the COVID-19 pandemic is a major health threat. Holmoe said the guidelines that were recently established by the NCAA as part of the return-to-play process are “stringent.”
“The standard levels are high, which they should be,” Holmoe said on the show. “Many smaller conferences are saying we can’t live up to those so we have to delay to spring. In the days and weeks to come others will make more decisions and we will have to react.”
He believes that BYU has an advantage because it has been able to focus on the physical and emotional health of its athletes for the last couple of months.
“We decided early on, with the permission of the school, that we felt we could do a better job keeping our athletes healthy if they were here with us,” Holmoe said. “We put together a plan where we felt we could bring them back and it’s been a really good experience. We have had great support from the BYU administration, which put together a COVID team that we have been communicating with on a daily basis and made adjustments as they were needed. I feel the athletes have enjoyed being back. They are with their friends and they want to play. We have a good environment and feel like the kids are doing well.”
The work of the training staffs to keep the athletes in good condition is something that should benefit the Cougars, especially since so many places haven’t been able to get to that point.
He pointed to the decision by the West Coast Conference to postpone starting play until Sept. 24 as an example.
“We have seven teams in California and a number of them have not been able to have their athletes return to work out at all,” Holmoe told BYU Sports Nation. “There came a point where it became unrealistic that those schools would be able to compete, so we made the decision as a group to postpone the start of the season.”
Holmoe is optimistic about the readiness of the Cougar athletes to compete whenever the green light is finally given.
“I’m super-impressed by our student-athletes,” Holmoe said on the show. “From when everything was canceled last spring, they adapted so quickly. Our fall student-athletes witnessed what happened in the spring and they know that it could happen to them but they are ready to go.”
He also knows that BYU sports mean a lot to the community as well, which is why he is doing everything he can to make them a reality.
“I’m hoping for posterity’s sake that no one has to go through a pandemic,” Holmoe told BYU Sports Nation. “It’s been rough. I can’t tell you how many people have called or come up to me and said, ‘We want to play, we want to see these kids, we want to root for the Cougars, we need this.’ It might go on ice again but I know how important it is and that’s why we are doing everything in our power to make it happen.”